Articles Posted in Products Liability

Recently, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on a case stemming from an Indiana motorcycle accident. The two plaintiffs were embarking on a cross-country trip on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle. While going through Nebraska, the couples’ bike tire sustained a puncture and deflated. The quick deflation resulted in the husband losing control of the motorcycle and crashing into a median. The husband slid across the highway, and his wife was thrown off the bike. Unfortunately, although both people were wearing helmets, they sustained severe injuries, including traumatic brain injuries.

A few months after the accident, the couple received a recall notice for their helmets. The couple filed a products liability lawsuit against the companies that sold them their helmets, the motorcycle manufacturer, and several other entities. The couple alleged that that the helmets and tires had design and manufacturing defects. The couple did not provide any experts for their helmet claim, and the district court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. However, the plaintiffs did provide expert testimony for their defective tire claim. The tire defendants filed motions to exclude the plaintiffs’ expert testimony based on a lack of reliability under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The plaintiffs challenged this ruling; however, the appeals court ultimately affirmed the lower courts finding.

Indiana follows the Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard. Under Daubert, a trial judge is responsible for ensuring that evidence is “reliable and relevant.” Typically, courts assess the reliability prong on a case-by-case basis; however, there are certain factors that courts analyze. Some general things that courts look to are whether the expert’s theory has been tested and peer-reviewed. Further, the court will examine whether the method they are putting forth has general acceptance in the relevant community.

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in a case dealing with an evidentiary issue that is applicable to many Indiana personal injury lawsuits.  According to the court’s written opinion, the case stemmed from an accident after an employee was injured when he was operating a car-crushing machine. The plaintiff sued the car manufacturer and the company that leased the machine to his employer. The plaintiff argued that the parties were liable under a defective design theory. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants based on a finding that the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony was not admissible. The plaintiff appealed the granting of the defendant’s summary judgment motion.

The court explained that the threshold criteria for an expert witness is that the “expert can reliably apply the principles and methods to the facts of the case.” In this particular case, the plaintiff presented the opinion of a professor of mechanical engineering. Although the professor had a Ph.D., had published articles, and had over three decades of experience, the court found that his testimony did not meet the basic expert witness requirements.

Typically, Indiana requires expert testimony be based on “scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge.” Expert witnesses can be used to understand complex issues, strengths, and weaknesses of a case, and to oppose adverse experts. Indiana product liability lawsuits often require expert witnesses. An expert witness must meet a threshold requirement under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The witness must be able to “reliably apply the principles and methods to the facts” of a case. Moreover, they must possess the training, education, skills, and knowledge to assist the trier of fact in determining an issue.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana product liability case discussing under what circumstances the manufacturer of a component part can be held liable for its failure to include a necessary safety feature. The case is interesting because it resolves a previously unanswered question under the Indiana Product Liability Act (IPLA).

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was killed when a semi-truck backed up over him. The defendant manufactured the “glider kit” which, in the court’s words, “becomes an operable over-the-road semi-truck after a purchaser installs an engine, transmission, and exhaust system.” The glider kit has a 40-foot blind spot behind the vehicle. The defendant allows buyers to purchase additional safety features, such as a rear-view window, a backup alarm, a backup camera, or backup flashers. None of those features were installed on the unit that ran over the plaintiff’s husband.

The plaintiff filed an Indiana product liability claim against the defendant, claiming that the glider kit suffered from a defective design. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no duty to install additional safety features. The defendant claimed that it did not manufacturer the completed semi-truck, and that the glider kit was not unreasonably dangerous or defective when it left the defendant’s control and that it was up to the purchaser to ensure that the final vehicle was safe for its intended use.

Parents assume that the products they purchase for their children are safe. However, that is not always the case. Too often, manufacturers rush products to market without having conducted the necessary safety testing. When it comes to products marketed toward children, any risk is unacceptable. Indiana parents should know that manufacturers can be held liable for any injuries caused by their product through an Indiana product liability lawsuit.

On April 12, 2019, Fisher-Price issued a recall of its popular infant sleeper, the Rock ‘n Play. The Rock n’ Play is a compact, foldable sleeper that is unique in that it allows infants to lie at a 30-degree angle while sleeping. The company marketed the product to parents hoping to get their babies to sleep longer, which is a significant concern for many parents of young children. Since Fisher-Price released the product in 2009, it is estimated that it has sold over 4.7 million units.

According to a recent article by the Washington Post, the Rock ‘n Play was manufactured and released to market with a complete dearth of clinical research into the product’s safety. The company appears to have only consulted with a single doctor in the creation of the product, a doctor whose medical license was later revoked. It was not until eight years later that Fisher-Price hired a pediatrician to look into the safety of the Rock ‘n Play.

Earlier in November, a written opinion was issued about an Indiana product liability case discussing whether a plaintiff’s incorrect use of the product is a complete defense for the manufacturer. The court held that a plaintiff’s misuse of a product can be a total defense if it is proven by the manufacturer.

The Factual Scenario

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff purchased a rotary tool powered by air that was manufactured by the defendant. The tool included an instruction manual, outlining the proper use of the tool. Among other matters, the tool’s directions informed users to always wear safety glasses when using the tool; not to only use the cut-off wheel attachment if the safety guard is secured into place; and, only use attachments that are rated for a minimum of 25,000 RPM (revs per minute). The tool did not come with the referenced safety guard and the instruction manual did not inform users where they could obtain one.

Evidently, the plaintiff was helping a friend with a project that required the use of the cut-off attachment. While doing so, the plaintiff wore eyeglasses, which he believed would be adequate protection. In addition, the tool did not have a safety guard installed and the cut-off wheel attachment he was using was rated for only 19,000 RPM. The cut-off wheel attachment subsequently broke and struck the plaintiff in the face, causing serious injuries including the loss of his eye.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana product liability case dismissing a plaintiff’s case for failing to file the required expert’s affidavit. The case is important for all Indiana product liability plaintiffs, because it explains when an expert witness may be required and also illustrates the potential consequences of not complying with the procedural requirements of the Indiana Product Liability Act (IPLA).

The Facts of the Case

In 2007, the plaintiff had her doctor implant an Intrauterine Device (IUD) in her uterus. The IUD, which was manufactured by the defendant, is a form of long-term birth control.

A few years later in 2013, the plaintiff asked her doctor to remove the IUD. When the doctor attempted to remove the IUD, however, only part of the device came out, leaving the rest of the device in the plaintiff’s uterus. The doctor advised the plaintiff that to remove the remaining portion of the IUD, the plaintiff would need a total hysterectomy.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a product liability case that illustrates the importance of vetting and selecting an expert witness in an Indiana product liability case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the experts whom the plaintiff planned to have testify at trial did not base their opinions on sufficiently reliable methodology, and thus it excluded the experts’ opinions from testimony.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s son was killed in a house fire in the plaintiff’s basement. After the fire, investigators searched through the basement for signs of what could have caused the fire. Several battery cells from their son’s laptop were recovered. One of the battery cells had ruptured, and the plaintiffs believed it was due to a defect in the battery. Thus, the plaintiffs filed a product liability case against the manufacturer of the laptop, the battery, and several components of the battery.

In support of their case, the plaintiffs presented testimony from two expert witnesses. The first was a “battery expert” who had a PhD in inorganic chemistry. He planned on testifying that, according to his experience, the fire was caused by an internal defect in the battery. While the expert acknowledged that being exposed to the heat of the fire could have caused the battery cell to rupture, the expert concluded that if that were the case, he would have expected all three battery cells to have ruptured. However, since only one cell ruptured, he concluded that the most likely cause of the fire was an internal defect in the ruptured cell.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion that will likely be of interest to anyone considering an Indiana product liability lawsuit against a vehicle manufacturer. The case presented the court with the opportunity to answer two questions. First, it addressed whether the lower court was proper in dismissing the plaintiff’s case against the defendant vehicle manufacturer based on a perceived inconsistency in the jury’s verdict. And second, it addressed the issue of, if the plaintiff’s case was sufficient as a matter of law, whether the $1 million damages that the jury awarded him were adequate. Ultimately, the court resolved both questions in favor of the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a roll-over accident when the van he was operating rear-ended another vehicle on the highway. While the initial collision was minor, the plaintiff was seriously injured when the van rolled, and he hit his head on the roof of the vehicle. After the accident, the plaintiff was permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the vehicle’s manufacturer, making several claims. The plaintiff presented evidence showing that the manufacturer did not conduct any safety testing on the seatbelt mechanism in the van. The plaintiff also had an expert witness testify that, had testing been conducted, the results would have indicated that the seatbelt mechanism was unsafe, and the manufacturer would have likely used a safer mechanism in its place.

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In a recent opinion, a federal appellate court dismissed a case filed by an employee who claimed that he developed health issues after being exposed to a toxic substance. The employee was working on his employer’s roof and was exposed to fumes of a glue that contained methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). The employee brought a claim against the glue manufacturer, alleging that the exposure to MDI caused him neurological and psychological problems, and he was not properly warned of the health risks.

After the parties engaged in discovery, the court dismissed the claim. It found that under Indiana law, a toxic tort claim required an expert on the issue of causation, and the employee did not provide such evidence. He only identified an expert on the language warnings but did not provide an expert on causation.

The employee argued that six treating physicians who provided reports were experts, even though they were not identified as experts in discovery. However, the court found that the employee was required to disclose who he planned to offer as an expert witness. In addition, the physicians’ reports the employee attached only summarized the employee’s symptoms and suggested a course of treatment. The court determined that the experts did not discuss causation and failed to state that they believed the MDI caused the employee’s health issues or explain why the glue may have caused his neurological and psychological problems. In contrast, the defendant provided an assessment from the World Health Organization, stating that MDI can irritate lung tissues and cause asthma-like symptoms, but it is not associated with other bad outcomes. As a result, the court dismissed the case.

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Over the past several years, General Motors has paid out over $2 billion in fines and damages related to faulty ignition switches in several of the company’s models. In cases across the country, accident victims claimed that GM was responsible for their injuries, due to the faulty switches. However, the problem was not just that the switches were faulty but also that there was evidence that GM knew about the defects but failed to take appropriate action.

After the defect was discovered, GM filed for bankruptcy. Post-bankruptcy, GM then argued that it should not be held liable in any of the lawsuits stemming from the faulty ignition switch that were filed prior to the company filing for bankruptcy. An earlier lower court ruling rejected the company’s claim, finding that the company may be held liable for the pre-bankruptcy claims. GM then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a national news source, the United States Supreme Court recently rejected GM’s appeal, leaving in place the lower court decision. Some experts hypothesize that the most recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion could expose the auto-manufacturing giant to liability in a significant number of unsettled cases, potentially resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

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