Have you ever thought that traveling in a vehicle going above 65 miles per hour could cause cancer? One Pennsylvania resident, Ted McCracken (“McCracken”), thought so and asked the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to award him damages as a result of such alleged injury. Pro se Plaintiff McCracken filed an action against Ford Motor Company asserting that he contracted thyroid cancer as a result of the insufficient protection Ford windshields provided from ambient radiation in the air that increases to dangerous levels inside a cabin when a vehicle travels at speeds in excess of 65 miles an hour. McCracken v. Ford Motor Co., No. 09-3995, 2010 WL 3010304 (3d Cir. Aug. 3, 2010) [PDF]. McCracken asserted eight causes of action, including strict products liability and defective design.
Ford filed a motion to dismiss on a number of grounds and the District Court of Pennsylvania dismissed all McCracken’s claims, except for strict products liability and defective design, and entered a scheduling order. Pursuant to this scheduling order, McCracken’s expert report was due on April 6, 2009. After this deadline had passed, McCracken filed a motion for an extension of time to retain an expert and a motion for the appointment of an expert under Fed. R. Evid. 706. The District Court denied his motions and Ford moved for summary judgment based upon McCracken’s lack of expert testimony. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Ford and McCracken appealed.
On appeal, McCracken asserted that he submitted sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment even without the testimony of an expert. This evidence included data regarding environmental radiation, a list of books and articles on radiation, the deposition testimony of a representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and affidavits from him and his mother stating that they observed increased readings on a Geiger meter when the vehicle accelerated. The Third Circuit found that this “evidence” was not enough to withstand summary judgment on the cause of McCracken’s cancer or the defective design of Ford’s windshields.
McCracken’s second argument on appeal is that the District Court erred in not appointing him an expert. The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court that “the purpose of Rule 706 is not to provide ‘litigation assistance’ to a party unable to retain an expert on its own.” The Third Circuit found no error by the District Court. McCracken asserted four more arguments on appeal, all not worth discussing here, which were all rejected by the Third Circuit.
This case is another example of a Plaintiff asking our Courts to buy into his or her theory of injury based on “because I said so.” The Third Circuit correctly found that Ford was entitled to summary judgement where plaintiff either could not find an expert to support his theory or he disregarded the court’s instructions by failing to find such an expert within their deadlines.
As a side note, this is McCracken’s thirteenth lawsuit asserting this general ambient radiation theory. He has sued numerous defendants including other automobile manufacturers, manufacturers of other types of vehicles that can travel in excess of 65 miles per hour, nuclear power plants, and energy companies. See McCracken v. R.E. Ginna Nuclear Power Plan, LLC, No. 08-cv-6217L, 2010 WL 1404115, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010).
On September 23, 1999, Jeffrey Smith, an experienced ATV rider, was attempting to back his Yamaha ATV, more specifically a 1987 Yamaha Big Bear 350, down a hill when his foot slipped and struck the right-rear fender of the ATV. The fender collapsed, and his right leg became trapped between the frame and the wheel. The ATV then rolled back over Mr. Smith, causing him to suffer severe injuries that left him disabled and disfigured. According to the website, this ATV was Yamaha’s first 4×4 ATV:
It is well-settled that a plaintiff’s misuse of a product cannot be grounds for granting summary judgment in favor of the manufacturer under a design defect theory unless it is established that the misuse solely caused the accident while the design defect did not contribute to it.
Wouldn’t it be great to be incarcerated in the state prison system? I imagine that it would lend a great deal of structure to my day, and I could file my lawsuits for free. Perhaps some court would write about me in an opinion. Instead of identifying me by name, the court would simply start the opinion with “Plaintiff is incarcerated at Ironwood State Prison . . . .” Alas, Walter Brown, Jr. was so lucky, as shown in Brown v. Summerset, No. C 09-04764, 2010 WL 3154538 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).
Brown filed a products action based on the peanut products recall in 2009. Apparently, Summerset, the menu coordinator for the state prison system, also tried to punish Brown by providing him with “spoiled beef and textured vegetable protein tacos.” (This and other tidbits are available in the Complaint, which is Document 1 in the case easily found on PACER.) Although the complaint describes the injuries suffered, I’ll spare you most of the details, only to say that Plaintiff complained of an intestinal ailment that he described as “watery.”
Brown must have spent much of his time in prison studying law, as he stated claims for negligence, strict liability, warranty, and even intentional infliction of emotional distress. Brown did an excellent job pleading facts to get past Iqbal and Twombly. He alleged that the “Plaintiffs believed they would succumb to their sickness” and that the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly distributed tainted food. He also alleged damages of at least $35 million, ensuring that he would meet the amount in controversy requirement.
But woe to Brown, that in all of his legal study, the seminal case of Strawbridge v. Curtiss eluded him, and his suit was doomed from the start when he sued Ms. Summerset, a fellow California citizen, thereby destroying complete diversity among the parties. Judge Armstrong went the extra mile, even addressing whether federal question jurisdiction was available. Indeed it was not. Brown’s claim, being dismissed, may be re-filed in California state court, where it will be much harder for me to find and read his complaint on the internet. Good luck, Mr. Brown. May your next meal of beef and textured vegetable protein tacos be more appetizing.
What you see captured above is Main Street Friday in our own downtown Greenville, South Carolina. You will notice what some people call a “Bounce House” or “Bouncy Castle” featured in the photo. While all Greenville parents are happy to have a form of entertainment for their children as they enjoy the show, what they do not know is that they may be allowing their children to jump in a toxic structure.
Last week, The New York Times reported that California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit against entities that manufacture, distribute, or supply bounce houses used at events such as Main Street Friday or children’s birthday parties. He claims that the houses contain more than the allowable limit of lead and pose health risks to children. The Center for Environmental Health began an investigation into the vinyl used in the construction of bounce houses — the component that gives them the bounce. The results of their investigation revealed lead levels in the vinyl varying from 5,000 parts per million to 29,000 parts per million. The federal limit for lead levels is 90 to 300 parts per million, significantly lower than the vinyl tested in these houses.
Attorney General Brown reported that his intention for this lawsuit is to cause manufacturers to stop using lead-containing vinyl and/or ensure that all bounce houses have adequate warnings regarding possible lead exposure. While that actual health effects on children by jumping in a bounce house for several hours is unknown, Dr. Megan Schwarzman, a family physician at Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, told the Times that “there was no safe level of lead exposure for children.” It will be interesting to see how this litigation progresses and whether similar lawsuits will arise around the country. While parents will be glad to be warned about the possible toxicity of bounce houses, I am sure that children will not be pleased!
Abnormal Use does not want to be accused of failure to warn, so here’s your warning: you might not want to read this post right after lunch. The FDA has issued a warning on the use of frozen mice sold for reptile food. (You may recall that we mentioned this very briefly in a previous Friday Links post, but you must have thought we were kidding.). Now, before you use your mouse to click directly out of Abnormal Use for the day, you might want to keep reading.
The contaminated mice, sold by Biggers and Callaham LLC, doing business as MiceDirect, may be contaminated with salmonella, a nasty little bacteria that can cause some very unpleasant symptoms. The FDA is warning those with compromised immune systems not only to avoid handling the rodents themselves, but also to avoid handling any reptiles who may have already consumed contaminated rodents. Some people have already reported symptoms.
So, if anyone in your family likes to cuddle with snakes, you might want to stop that practice. We think that might be a good idea generally, but even more so now.
What does this mean? The article goes on to say:
The finding could prompt a redirection in the study of motor degeneration in athletes and military veterans being given diagnoses of A.L.S. at rates considerably higher than normal, said several experts in A.L.S. who had seen early versions of the paper. Patients with significant histories of brain trauma could be considered for different types of treatment in the future, perhaps leading toward new pathways for a cure.
More significantly, [according to two doctors interviewed in the piece], the finding solidifies a long-suspected connection between A.L.S.-like motor disease and head trauma experienced in collision sports and combat.
According to statistics cited in the article, 30,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The study, authored by Boston University Associate Professor of Neurology and Pathology Ann McKee and several co-authors, will appear in the September issue of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.