Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Roverano. v. John Crane, Inc.
In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether the Fair Share Act, 42 Pa.C.S. 7102, required a factfinder to apportion liability on a percentage, as opposed to per capita, basis in strict liability asbestos actions. William Roverano was exposed to a variety of asbestos products from 1971 to 1981 in the course of his employment as a helper and a carpenter with PECO Energy Company. Additionally, he smoked cigarettes for approximately thirty years until 1997. In November 2013, Roverano was diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs. In 2014, Roverano brought a strict liability lawsuit against thirty defendants, including John Crane, Inc. (Crane) and Brand Insulations, Inc. (Brand), asserting that exposure to their asbestos products caused his lung cancer. His wife, Jacqueline Roverano, filed a loss of consortium claim. Before trial, several defendants, including Crane and Brand, filed a motion in limine seeking a ruling that the Fair Share Act applied to asbestos cases. The Supreme Court concluded the Act’s plain language was consistent with per capita apportionment in asbestos cases, the Act does not specifically preempt Pennsylvania common law favoring per capita apportionment, and percentage apportionment in asbestos cases was impossible of execution. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s order, which vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded this case for a new trial to apportion damages on a percentage basis. Additionally, the Supreme Court considered whether the Act required a factfinder to apportion liability to bankrupt entities that entered into a release with the plaintiff. To this, the Court concluded that upon appropriate requests and proofs, bankruptcy trusts that were either joined as third-party defendants or that have entered into a release with the plaintiff could be included on the verdict sheet for purposes of liability only. Accordingly, this case was remanded to the trial court to consider whether Appellees submitted sufficient requests and proofs to apportion liability to the settled bankruptcy trusts. View "Roverano. v. John Crane, Inc." on Justia Law
In Re: Risperdal Litig.
Appellants Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter challenged a superior court decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of Appellees Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Company, and Janssen Research and Development, LLC (collectively, “Janssen”). Saksek and Winter were two of a large number of men who filed suit against Janssen, alleging that they developed gynecomastia as a result of their ingestion of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug manufactured by Janssen. In 2014, Janssen filed two motions for summary judgment, which were nominally directed at Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, but had language affecting all Risperdal plaintiffs: the companies sought a global ruling that all claims accrued for statute of limitations purposes no later than October 31, 2006, when Janssen changed the Risperdal label to reflect a greater association between gynecomastia and Risperdal. The trial court ruled that all Risperdal-gynecomastia claims accrued no later June 31, 2009. The superior court disagreed, ruling that all such claims accrued no later than Janssen’s preferred date (October 31, 2006). Concluding that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment at all in Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Risperdal Litig." on Justia Law
Rost v. Ford Motor Co.
In October 2009, Appellees Richard and Joyce Rost filed suit against multiple manufacturers of asbestos, averring that exposure to the defendants’ asbestos containing products caused Richard to contract mesothelioma. Before trial, the Rosts settled their claims against all defendants except for Appellant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). Over Ford’s objections, the trial court consolidated the case for trial with two other mesothelioma cases. Trial commenced in September 2011, at which time the trial court reminded the parties of a pre-trial ruling, precluding any expert from offering testimony that “each and every breath” of asbestos may constitute an evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant’s product was a substantial cause of mesothelioma. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation, seeking to provide further illumination on the principles set forth in its decisions in this area. After review, the Court concluded the trial court and the Superior Court properly applied those principles in this case, and thus affirmed the judgment entered in favor of Appellees. View "Rost v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc.
In 2007, neighbors reported a fire that had erupted at the home of the Terrence and Judith Tincher in Downingtown. The residence was the central unit of a two-story triplex purchased by the Tinchers in 2005. The fire was eventually extinguished and no one was harmed. Investigators concluded that a lightning strike near the home caused a small puncture in the corrugated stainless steel tubing (“CSST”) transporting natural gas to a fireplace located on the first floor of the residence. The CSST installed in the Tinchers’ home was manufactured and sold by Omega Flex as part of a gas transportations system marketed as the TracPipe System. The melting of the CSST caused by the lightning strike ignited the natural gas and fueled the fire estimated to have burned for over an hour. The fire caused significant damage to the Tinchers’ home and belongings. After the fire, the Tinchers reported the incident to their insurer, United Services Automobile Association (“USAA”). USAA compensated the Tinchers for their loss up to the limit of their policy and received an assignment of liability claims. The Tinchers suffered an additional out-of-pocket loss because a portion of their claimed loss exceeded the limits of the USAA policy. In January 2008, the Tinchers filed a complaint against Omega Flex; USAA prosecuted the claims in the name of the Tinchers to obtain reimbursement of the insurance proceeds payout, but the Tinchers retained an interest in the litigation to recover the losses exceeding their insurance coverage. The Tinchers asserted claims premised upon theories of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty, alleging that Omega Flex was liable for damages to their home caused by the placement on the market and sale of the TracPipe System. Omega Flex, Inc., appealed the Superior Court's decision to affirm the judgment on the verdict entered in favor of the Tinchers. After review, the Supreme Court reversed in part, and remanded the case with instructions: (1) "Azzarello v. Black Brothers Company," (391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978)) was overruled; (2) a plaintiff pursuing a cause upon a theory of strict liability in tort must prove that the product is in a “defective condition”; (3) whether a product is in a defective condition is a question of fact ordinarily submitted for determination to the finder of fact; (4) to the extent relevant here, the Court declined to adopt the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability despite acknowledging that "certain principles contained in that Restatement has certainly informed [its] consideration of the proper approach to strict liability in Pennsylvania in the post-Azzarello paradigm." View "Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc." on Justia Law
Lance v. Wyeth
In a products liability matter, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether under Pennsylvania law a pharmaceutical company was immune from responding in damages for a lack of due care resulting in injury or death except for two discrete grounds: drug impurities or deficient warnings. Appellee made her primary claim against the makers of "phen-fen" as one of "negligence - unreasonable marketing of a dangerous rug and unreasonable failure to remove the drug from the market before 1997." The manufacturer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the appellee failed to assert a cognizable cause of action. The court of common please granted the company's motion. The Superior Court reversed, and both parties appealed, challenging respectively the Superior Court's holdings that pharmaceutical companies were not immune from claims of negligent drug design, and that claims of negligent marketing, testing, and failure of remove the drugs from the market were unviable claims. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings: "there has been no supported presentation here which would persuade us to immunize companies from the responsibility to respond in damages for such a lack of due care resulting in personal injury or death." View "Lance v. Wyeth" on Justia Law
Reott v. Asia Trend, Inc.
The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this case to determine, as a matter of first impression, whether a defendant in a products liability action must plead and prove as an affirmative defense that an injured party's alleged "highly reckless conduct" was the sole or superseding cause of the plaintiff's injuries. Upon review of the Superior Court record, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that in order to avoid liability, a defendant raising a claim of highly reckless conduct must indeed plead and prove such claim as an affirmative defense. "Moreover, this evidence must further establish that the highly reckless conduct was the sole or superseding cause of the injuries sustained." The Court affirmed the order of the Superior Court. View "Reott v. Asia Trend, Inc." on Justia Law
Betz v. Pneumo Abex LLC
The civil action underlying this appeal was selected as a test case for the admissibility of expert opinion evidence to the effect that each and every fiber of inhaled asbestos is a substantial contributing factor to any asbestos-related disease. The inquiry has proceeded under principles derived from 'Frye v. United States' (293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923)). Upon its consideration of the evidence presented by both sides, the trial court sustained the Frye challenge and precluded the plaintiffs from adducing the 'any exposure' opinion. Focusing upon methodology, the judge found no support for the any exposure theory of specific causation in any of the sources upon which the expert relied. The Superior Court majority was very critical of the trial court's treatment of the Frye challenge on several fronts. While finding error in the threshold determination, the Superior Court nevertheless proceeded to review the trial court's finding as to general acceptance, concluding that the judge had abused his discretion. At the outset, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court's decision to conduct a Frye hearing concerning the any-exposure opinion to be appropriate. While the Superior Court was correct that the trial court judge did not embellish his opinion with specific citations to the record, his findings and conclusions were 'amply supported throughout that record nonetheless.' The Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse his discretion in its Frye assessment. The order of the Superior Court was reversed, and the case was remanded for consideration of whether there were remaining, preserved issues on appeal which were obviated by the intermediate court's approach to the common pleas court's ruling. View "Betz v. Pneumo Abex LLC" on Justia Law
Beard v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc.
This appeal arose out of a medical-device product liability action in which a strict liability, design-defect theory was asserted. Given that the surgical instrument at issue was said to have multiple applications, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the trial court's threshold risk-utility analysis should have been limited to the particular one alleged to have caused the decedent harm. Additionally, the appeal was allowed to consider the degree to which an appellate court is bound by such weight and credibility determinations as may be made by a trial court in a risk-utility assessment. The decedent Sandra Selepec, underwent gastric bypass surgery in August 2002. The surgeon used a product manufactured by Appellee Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. known as an ETS-Flex45 Articulating Endoscopic Linear Cutter, or an "endocutter." Appellee also marketed its product as being useful in more traditional surgery, in which larger incisions are made to expose organs to open view and accessibility. Mrs. Selepec's surgery was of this latter kind. During recovery, Mrs. Selepec experienced complications, and surgeons reentered her abdomen to discover that two of the bypass staples failed. On the merits, Appellee argued that courts applying the risk-utility analysis have always considered the risks, benefits, and design constraints associated with all intended uses of a product; to artificially limit the risk utility analysis to the particular use to which a plaintiff put a product in a particular case would be to ignore the inherent, essential characteristics that informed the design; and to hold multi-use products to the same standard as single-use products would be tantamount to requiring the sale of multiple single-use products, which would be inefficient and impractical, if not impossible. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that trial courts are not restricted to considering a single use of a multiuse product in design defect, threshold, risk-utility balancing. The Court also declined to disturb the Superior Court's legal determination as to the appropriate risk-utility calculus. View "Beard v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc." on Justia Law
Daley v. A.W. Chesterton
In this appeal by allowance, the Supreme Court considered whether the "separate disease" rule (also referred to as the "two-disease" rule) allows an individual to bring separate lawsuits for more than one malignant disease which allegedly resulted from the same asbestos exposure. The matter arose from Appellee Herbert Daley's 1989 diagnosis of pulmonary asbestosis and squamous-cell carcinoma in his right lung. He filed suit against several defendants seeking compensatory damages for work-related injuries and settled. In 2005, Appellee filed suit against US Supply, Duro-Dyne and A.W. Chesterson alleging that a late diagnosis of mesothelioma was caused by the same exposure that resulted in his lung cancer. The companies argued that Pennsylvania had not adopted the two-disease rule, and that his mesothelioma diagnosis was barred by a two-year statute of limitations. Upon review, the Court concluded that the rule did apply, and, accordingly, the Court affirmed an order of the Superior Court, which reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of U.S. Supply Co. and Duro-Dyne Corp. View "Daley v. A.W. Chesterton" on Justia Law
Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc.
Appellant Kia Motors America, Inc. unsuccessfully defended a class action lawsuit for breach of express warranty. It appealed a superior court's decision to affirm certification of the class by the trial court, and the amount of damages and litigation costs awarded to the class. Costs included a significant legal fee, entered pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act (MMWA). Appellee Shamell Samuel-Bassett, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated filed this class action lawsuit in January 2001, alleging that her Kia had an unsafe manufacturing defect in the braking system. In 2005, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of the class for breach of express warranty, and awarded damages in the amount of $600 per class member. The court molded the verdict to account for the 9,402 class members to which the parties had stipulated and recorded a $5.6 million verdict. Represented by new counsel, Kia filed an unsuccessful post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or for a new trial. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the class was properly certified; (2) whether evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (3) whether the jury’s verdict was properly molded to account for the 9,402 members of the class; (4) whether the trial court had authority to award attorneys’ fees after Bassett entered judgment on the class verdict; and (5) whether the risk multiplier was properly applied to an award of counsel fees under the MMWA. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the trial court's decision. The Court reversed the trial court to the extent that its order provided for enhancement of the attorneys' fees award beyond the amount permitted in the MMWA. View "Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law