Recently, the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the District of Massachusetts in granting manufacturer’s post-verdict motion to alter or amend judgment, reversing judgment entered upon a jury verdict, by applying the relation-back doctrine. Coons v. Industrial Knife Co., No. 09-1791, 2010 WL 3516849 (1st Cir. Sept. 10, 2010) [PDF]. Three years after William Coons (“Coons”) was injured by an industrial paper-cutting knife while on the job, he filed suit against A.F. Chapman Corporation who he alleged manufactured and distributed the the knife that caused his injuries. A year later, after pre-trial discovery, A.F. Chapman sought, and was granted, leave to file a third-party complaint against Industrial Knife, alleging that Industrial Knife was the manufacturer and distributor of the knife. Almost two years after filing his original complaint, Coons sought, and was granted, leave to amend his complaint to assert claims against Industrial Knife.
South Carolina Supreme Court Re-Issues Opinion in which it Reversed $18 Million Products Liability Verdict
Third Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Ford as a result of Plaintiff’s Lack of Expert Testimony
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).
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!
On August 18, 2005, six individuals at Piedmont Display Fireworks and Fireworks Spectacular were tasked with loading a trailer full of boxes of pre-squibbed aerial fireworks shells. These shells were pre-squibbed with electric matches affixed to their fuses. As the boxes were being loaded, an explosion occurred and three of the six workers were killed. The Kansas Fire Marshal’s office concluded that the explosion was caused as a result of an ignition source inside the last box loaded into the trailer. Electric matches were identified as the source that ignited the fireworks shells. Plaintiffs, however, identified five different defendants that could have supplied the electric matches associated with the explosion.
Plaintiffs filed separate actions against these defendants for negligence, strict liability – product defect, and strict liability – failure to warn. Three defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiffs could not prove causation. Plaintiffs actually agreed that they could not prove which defendants’ product was involved but relied upon the theory of alternative liability in Section 433B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts that provides the following:
Where the conduct of two or more actors is tortious, and it is proved that harm has been caused to the plaintiff by only one of them, but there is uncertainty as to which one has caused it, the burden is upon each such actor to prove that he has not caused the harm.
This Kansas court found no cases that indicated that Kansas had adopted this rule and found that even if a Kansas court had adopted this rule, Plaintiffs could not meet the elements required by the theory. To satisfy the elements of the theory, a plaintiff must still prove that the defendants were negligent before any liability can attach. In this case, there was no evidence establishing what products were in the box that initiated the disaster. Therefore, Plaintiffs could not prove which defendant was negligent, and the court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Twombly and Iqbal Satisfied Even Where Plaintiff Cannot Identify Specific Manufacturer of Alleged Defective Product
In a recent action in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, defendants in a product liability action argued that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the pleading requirements of Twombly [PDF] and Iqbal [PDF] because she failed to identify the manufacturer of the product she alleged to have caused her injuries. District Judge William E. Smith, disagreed with defendants, finding plaintiff had “made out facially plausible claims against each Defendant, alternatively.” Koch v. I-Flow Corp. et al., C.A. No. 09-441 S., 2010 WL 2265670 (D.R.I. Jun. 7, 2010) [PDF].