The Trend Toward MDLs in Products Cases

A review of multidistrict litigation (MDL) statistics confirms the increasing percentages of federal cases being consolidated into MDLs. According to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) website, as of June 2019, 202 MDLs were pending in 46 different federal districts, in 32 different states, before 160 different transferee judges. California boasts the largest number of MDLs, with 30. New York State is close behind with 26. The 141,721 cases included in these MDLs represent more than 50 percent of the federal civil docket. More than 30 percent (or 70 MDLs) of the pending MDLs are products liability cases, a significant increase from 16 percent in 2005. And, of the 70 MDLs, more than 50 are litigations involving pharmaceutical products and/or medical devices. These numbers highlight the increase in the frequency with which products liability cases are being coordinated in MDL proceedings.

The MDL statute enacted in 1968 allows for the transfer of cases “involving one or more common questions of fact … pending in different districts” to “any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.” 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a). After an MDL is established, later-filed cases involving the same questions of fact are seamlessly transferred to the MDL as tagalong cases. The efficiencies seen in MDL proceedings since 1968 have caused the MDL docket to grow dramatically. In the early years, the “caseload was relatively flat—in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Panel averaged only around 40 [consolidation] motions per year.” Emery G. Lee III et al., “Multidistrict Centralization: An Empirical Examination,” 12 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies,  211, 221 (2015). By the 1990s, the MDL caseload was growing rapidly. Today, the JPML reports that it considers more than 55 motions per year on average, and as of the end of 2018, MDLs accounted for 52 percent of all civil cases pending in federal court.
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Products in a New Dimension: Manufacturing Considerations for 3D-Printed Products

Since its advent more than 30 years ago, the 3D printing market has grown, and will continue to expand for a myriad of reasons, including sustainability and reduced energy consumption. As the process, including the applicable technology, becomes more cost-effective, its widespread use continues to increase across many industries, such as aerospace and defense, energy, architecture and construction, automotive, food/culinary, consumer products and health care.

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The CPSC Releases Framework of Safety for the Internet of Things

The rapidly developing technology of interconnected software allows consumers to reach new heights of convenience and efficiency. We can start our dinner remotely, listen to our music in every room in the house, track and log our heart rate and step count, and program our coffeepot to be ready for us in the morning. This technology sometimes is called the Internet of Things (IoT), which describes the interconnectedness of devices via the internet. These devices can exchange data between themselves to coordinate a variety of helpful functions. While this technology is exciting and signifies many positive new directions for consumer products, manufacturers should be aware of the potential risks that come with creating such products.

To that end, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a Framework of Safety for the IoT (the CPSC Framework) in January 2019. The CPSC Framework provides “technology-neutral best practices to ensure consumer product safety” and to prevent “death, physical injury or illness” resulting from the use of IoT products. It is not intended to address privacy or confidentiality. While general in tone, the CPSC Framework is intended to assist with an “active approach” to safety rather than a reactive one in this quickly growing industry.

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Third Circuit Holds Online Retailers May Be Liable for Defective Third-Party Products Under Pennsylvania Product Liability Laws

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that online retailers such as Amazon could be held liable for allegedly defective third-party products sold through its website.
In a 2−1 panel decision in Oberdorf v. Amazon.com, Inc., — F.3d —, 2019 WL 2849153 (3d Cir. July 3, 2019), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling that Amazon was not a “seller” under § 402A of the Restatement Second of Torts, and therefore could be held strictly liable under Pennsylvania products liability law.

Pennsylvania has adopted Restatement Second of Torts § 402A, which “specifically limits strict products liability to ‘sellers’ of products.” Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether an online sales listing service such as Amazon Marketplace qualifies as a “seller” under § 402A, the district court was tasked with predicting what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would decide under Pennsylvania law.

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Does Pennsylvania Recognize Strict Liability Claims Against Medical Device Manufacturers? A Pennsylvania federal court calls the question.

For at least two decades, Pennsylvania law has recognized an exemption from strict liability for prescription drug manufacturers based on the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Restatement (Second) of Torts Sec. 402A cmt. k.  Comment k carves out an exception to traditional strict product liability claims for “unavoidably unsafe products,” or those which bear inherent risks—such as medicines which must be prescribed by a doctor.  A less settled question is whether that exemption extends to manufacturers of prescription medical devices, specifically regarding manufacturing defect claims.  On June 25, 2019, Judge Robreno of the U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Pennsylvania asked the Third Circuit to answer it.

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Worth the Wait? Some Semi-Mature Thoughts on Albrecht

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.

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District of Delaware Grants Motions for Summary Judgment in Three Risperdal Gynecomastia Cases

In a trio of recent decisions arising out of cases alleging that an antipsychotic medication, Risperdal, and its generic, risperidone, had caused gynecomastia (breast tissue growth) in men, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware granted motions for summary judgment for defendant Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The three opinions clarify that Delaware law would not impose innovator liability on a branded drug manufacturer when the plaintiff had used only a generic drug, and addressed “but-for” warnings causation and proximate cause in prescription drug products liability cases. [Disclosure: Drinker Biddle & Reath. LLP attorneys were co-counsel of record in these cases for Janssen.]

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Third Circuit Tackles Third-Party Funding Issues in In Re: National Football League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation

Third-party litigation funding has received increased scrutiny over the past several years, particularly in the context of mass torts, class actions, and multidistrict litigation. Most of this scrutiny has focused on pre-litigation or pre-resolution commercial loans to fund the litigation, and particularly whether parties are required to disclose such funding during the course of the litigation.
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Labeling Preemption Questions are for the Court, not the Jury, Holds U.S. Supreme Court in Fosamax Decision That Clarifies the “Clear Evidence” Standard

A judge, and not the jury, is the better-positioned and appropriate decisionmaker to determine whether a failure-to-warn claim is federally preempted, the U.S. Supreme Court held today.

The Court also clarified the “clear evidence” standard governing an impossibility preemption defense to failure-to-warn claims.

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Texas Senate Passes Bill Regulating Attorney Advertising Regarding Prescription Medication and Medical Device Litigation

On April 11, 2019, the Texas Senate passed by a vote of 20-10 bipartisan Senate Bill 1189 regulating attorney advertising relating to prescription medication and medical device litigation.

The bill prohibits certain advertisements for legal services that use the phrases “medical alert,” “drug alert,” “public service announcement,” or other language to suggest that “the advertisement is offering professional, medical, or government agency advice about medications or medical devices rather than legal services.”

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