Articles Posted in Product Defect Litigation

There have been multiple reports of deaths and/or agonizing, horrible injuries caused when motorists strike highway or road guardrails designed and manufactured by Lindsay Corp., the maker and designer of X-LITE guardrails.

The recent lawsuits filed in South Carolina and Tennessee allege that Lindsay Corp. was negligent in design of the X-LITE guardrails, which are supposed to absorb impact when vehicles hit them. Instead, the guardrails have been known to pierce through motor vehicles either killing drivers and passengers or severely injuring those in such vehicles.

In April 2017, a woman died in Spartanburg County, SC, when the SUV that her husband was driving went off the road running into the guardrail. On impact, the beams from the guardrail pierced through the vehicle’s exterior and frame puncturing all the way through to the backseat on the passenger side.

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S.V. and Hemalatha Gopalratnam sued the laptop manufacturer Hewlett-Packard claiming that its battery pack maker, DynaPack Technology Corp. and battery cell manufacturer, Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. were a cause of the death of their son, Arun Gopalratnam who died in a fire in the basement bedroom of the Gopalratnam’s home. An autopsy showed that Arun’s death was caused by smoke inhalation.

The origin of this fire was said to have been near the mattress of Arun’s bed, according to Special Agent Antonio H. Martinez of the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations. Included in the debris was the HP laptop, a Nokia cellphone and 2 or 3 laptop battery cells in the basement bedroom and a third laptop battery cell in the debris, which was shoveled into the backyard.

The lawsuit included claims of negligence, strict product liability and breach of warranty. To support these claims, the Gopalratnam family hired two expert witnesses who gave opinion testimony at trial that one of the three battery cells experienced “thermal runaway,” which generated high temperatures causing the cell to explode and catch fire.

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The Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District has held that a Taiwanese bicycle company will remain a party defendant in a lawsuit filed by an Illinois resident who was injured after the fork of her bicycle snapped in half without warning.

The appeals panel has found that Giant Manufacturing Ltd., a Taiwanese company, was within the personal jurisdiction of Janet Kowal’s lawsuit. In 2013, she sued Giant Manufacturing in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Giant Manufacturing is the Taiwanese company that makes Giant bicycles. The lawsuit included as defendants other entities who sold or did maintenance work on her Giant bike.

Because Giant Manufacturing, through its United States subsidiary and its authorized retailers, had enough of a deliberate presence within Illinois, the court held that the company could be potentially liable in the lawsuits involving one of its products.  The case was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court on an interlocutory basis.

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Juan Suarez used Goof Off, an extremely flammable product made by the defendant W.M. Barr & Co., to remove paint from a basement floor. While he was removing the paint, a fire erupted in the basement and severely burned him. Suarez and his wife sued W.M. Barr claiming it chose not warn and for failing by producing a defective product design under Illinois law. After the U.S. District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Barr, the Suarezes appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago.

The appeals panel concluded that the district judge appropriately rejected the Suarezes’ failure-to-warn claim. The warning label on the Goof Off can adequately identified the product’s principal hazards, as well as the precautionary measures to be taken while using the product.

However, the appeals panel reversed and remanded the district court’s rejection of the Suarezes’ design defect claims under both strict liability and negligence. The Suarezes have adequately shown that the fire may have been caused by static sparks created when Juan agitated Goof Off with a brush, as the warning label instructed.

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On April 2, 2009, Michelle Odom was filing a document at a storage tower near her workstation in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange when her phone rang. She turned to answer her phone, but the knit sleeve of her sweater caught on the open drawer of the storage tower. The tower fell on Odom, knocking her to the floor.

Odom alleged that she has developed “severe complex regional pain syndrome” and is now permanently disabled. In July 2012, Odom filed a lawsuit against Environetx LLC, Steelcase Inc. and Office Concepts Inc. Steelcase was the manufacturer of the storage tower. Office Concepts was a distributor for Steelcase and sold the storage tower to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Environetx was subcontracted by Office Concepts for the installation of the tower.

The tower in question came with instructions and caution labels, warning that the cabinets should be “ganged” together or against a wall to prevent them from toppling, but also specified that “counterweights are not required with vertical drawer towers.”

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The law firm of Williams, Bax & Saltzman P.C. represented Cole Goesel and his parents in a personal injury lawsuit that settled before trial. Because Cole was a minor, the law firm needed judicial approval to finalize the settlement. The parties’ contingent-fee agreement entitled the law firm to one-third of the gross settlement, while all litigation expenses would be covered by the Goesels’ share.

The U.S. District Court judge refused to approve the settlement unless litigation expenses were deducted off the top and one-third of the net settlement was allocated to the firm. The judge also rejected the firm’s attempt to count the cost of computerized legal research as a separately compensable litigation expense rather than rolling it into the fee recovery. The law firm appealed the judge’s order limiting its fees. The Goesels declined to participate.

The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the district court judge’s decision. The appeals panel stated that although the district court enjoys substantial discretion to safeguard the interests of minors in the settlement of litigation, this discretion is not boundless. In this instance, the trial judge criticized aspects of the firm’s contingent-fee agreement that have received the expressed blessing of Illinois courts. The trial judge’s analysis of what the Goesels would receive, that being 51% of the gross settlement amount rather than 42%, was insufficient to justify discarding a reasonable contingent-fee agreement.

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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has affirmed a decision by the district court judge regarding circumstantial evidence without an expert witness. In this case, the plaintiffs, Howard Piltch and Barbara Nelson-Piltch, were driving in their 2003 Mercury Mountaineer in 2006 when they were involved in an accident; the airbags of their vehicle did not deploy. After the crash, the couple repaired their car, but did not confirm whether the restraint control module, which monitors a crash and electronically decides whether to deploy airbags, was reset during or after repair work.

One year later, the Piltches were driving the car when it hit a patch of black ice. This caused the car to slide off of the road and hit a wall. On impact, none of the cars’ airbags deployed.

After the second crash, the couple had their Mountaineer repaired at the same repair shop that had repaired the car after the 2006 incident. In 2009, the Piltches sold the car to a mechanic who reprogrammed the vehicle’s black box, wiping out the data that might have been remaining from either of the two crashes.

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Six United States senators have asked the Federal Highway Administration to investigate the safety of roadside guardrails. This request was made on March 4, 2015, and it is the latest of a series of inquiries made regarding the guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries Inc.

The questions about the guardrail system manufactured by Trinity began in October 2014 after a jury found that Trinity had defrauded the United States government by choosing not to report changes to the guardrail system. This act of failing to report changes to the guardrail system was over a period of seven years.

There have been as many as eight deaths reported to be linked to the defective guardrail system. No spokesperson for Trinity would comment on any specific lawsuit.

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The Illinois appellate court has reinstated a product-liability lawsuit against a distributor in which there was a default judgment against the manufacturer of the product. In this case, the manufacturer was not subject to jurisdiction, and the plaintiff wasn’t able to satisfy the judgment. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the plaintiff may reinstate the lawsuit against the distributor.

In 2009, Jeff Chraca was unpacking a shipment of golf cart batteries. Chraca was employed by Chicago Battery Co. Chraca was lifting and carrying the batteries with the aid of a black strap that came with the shipment of batteries. The strap broke suddenly and Chraca wrenched one of his shoulders and his neck.

Chraca filed a worker’s compensation claim in 2011 and then filed a strict tort product-liability action against U.S. Battery — the company that sent the batteries and the strap to Chraca’s employer. However, U.S. Battery did not manufacture the strap; instead, it merely sent it along with the battery shipment.

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Late in 2002, the developer of 1717 S. Prairie Ave. in Chicago, Ill., retained the defendant Hansen & Hempel Co. to complete the masonry work for a 23-story condominium complex. When the building was nearly finished in March 2004, it started to experience water leakage. The condominium association, Board of Directors of the Prairie District Homes Tower Condominium Association, hired an engineering firm to design and implement a repair that was estimated to cost over $6,500,000.

Because of the report on the defects to the building, the association filed a lawsuit wherein the case was tried to a jury on the sole issue of breach of implied warranty of habitability.

The plaintiff board of directors of the condominium association contended that 90% of the through-wall flashing in dams installed by the defendant masonry company were either missing or installed improperly and claimed that because of those material defects it allowed water to penetrate the inner cavity of the building.

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