Articles Posted in Product Defect Litigation

The First District Appellate Court affirmed a decision of a Cook County trial court.

In 1999, Snake River Technology d/b/a Rocky Mountain Cryobanks, a Wyoming company, was purchased by the New England Cryogenics Center, a Massachusetts corporation that collects, stores and sells human sperm.

The purchase included the sperm donor samples in possession of Snake River. In 2009, one such sperm sample was sold to an Oklahoma couple, the Kretchmars, who had a child. The child developed cystic fibrosis; a genetic test revealed that the child had received the Delta-F508 cystic fibrosis gene mutation from the donor sperm.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has affirmed the grant of defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the plaintiff’s lawsuit that alleged that the product Testim, which was manufactured by Auxilium Pharmaceuticals as a topical gel containing testosterone, caused the plaintiff, Isaac Owens, to develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The federal district court in Chicago granted Auxilium’s motion to exclude Owens’ sole expert witness on the issue of causation linking Testim to his medical condition.

The appeals panel stated that the district court could properly exclude causation testimony from the Owens’ expert, when: (1) although the expert opined that Testim had caused plaintiff’s DVT, he did so under the assumption that Owens was applying the prescribed dose of the gel in the proper manner; (2) Owens conceded that he had used only half of the prescribed dosage and applied the gel in the wrong parts of his body; and (3) Owens’ expert could not express an opinion regarding causation under circumstances that more accurately described Owens’ use and application of Testim.

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Theodore Joas underwent a total knee replacement at a Wisconsin hospital receiving a Zimmer NexGen Flex knee implant.  Within a few years, he began experiencing pain in his new knee.  X-rays confirmed that the implant had loosened and required a surgical repair.

He brought a series of claims against Zimmer Inc., the implant manufacturer.  His case was transferred to a multi-district litigation in the Northern District of Illinois where it was eventually treated as a bellwether case.

The court applied Wisconsin law and granted summary judgment in favor of Zimmer.

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An Indiana federal jury returned a $35 million verdict in favor of Barbara Kaiser who alleged she was injured by a vaginal mesh implant.

The jury’s verdict found that defendants Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon Inc. were negligent in the design of the trans-vaginal mesh and then chose not to adequately warn patients and physicians of the risk.

Trans-vaginal mesh is used to treat stressed urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that occurs when a woman’s bladder or another pelvic organ drops from its normal place and then pushes up against the walls of the vagina.

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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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