Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Products Liability
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether the Pennsylvania Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5521(b), required Pennsylvania courts to apply a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose to a claim that accrued in a foreign jurisdiction. In 2013, Appellee William Kornfeind was injured when he fell from a 28-foot extension ladder while performing maintenance work on the roof of his home in Wauconda, Illinois. The ladder was designed, manufactured, and distributed by Old Ladder Company (Old Ladder) in 1995. Kornfeind believed he purchased it from The Home Depot (Home Depot) in Illinois sometime in the late 1990s. Old Ladder filed for bankruptcy in 2006. In 2007, New Werner Holding Co. assumed certain liabilities from Old Ladder. In 2015, Kornfeind filed suit at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. After the close of discovery, New Werner and Home Depot each filed motions for summary judgment, arguing the trial court should use Pennsylvania’s Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act to borrow Illinois’ ten-year statute of repose for product liability claims. They argued that because Kornfeind admitted in his deposition that he purchased the ladder in the late 1990s, the latest he could have purchased it was on December 31, 1999, which was more than ten years before he filed suit in 2015. As Kornfeind’s product liability claims would be time-barred by the Illinois statute of repose and Pennsylvania did not have a statute of repose for product liability claims. The trial court denied both motions for summary judgment, reasoning that, as a matter of law, Pennsylvania’s borrowing statute “is explicitly limited to statutes of limitations and does not include statutes of repose.” Because the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act did not require the application of a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose, it affirmed the portion of the order of the Superior Court that affirmed the trial court order denying the motion for summary judgment filed by New Werner. View "Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding" on Justia Law

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Appellee-Plaintiff Patricia Hammons (“Hammons”) was an Indiana resident who suffered significant injuries following the May 2009 implantation in Indiana of Appellant-Defendant Ethicon, Inc.’s Prolift Kit, a medical device used to treat “medical conditions in the female pelvis, primarily pelvic organ prolapse and/or stress urinary incontinence.” She received treatment in Indiana and Kentucky. All parties agreed the mesh was the only aspect of the Prolift Kit produced in Pennsylvania. Ethicon contracted with Secant Medical, Inc., a Bucks County manufacturer, to weave the mesh according to Ethicon’s specifications from Ethicon’s proprietary polypropylene filament. Hammons filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson, Gynecare, and Secant, asserting various claims related to the implanted device. Ethicon was a wholly-owned subsidiary of co-defendant Johnson & Johnson, both of which were headquartered and incorporated in New Jersey (jointly “Ethicon”). After initially being removed to federal court based on Ethicon’s claim of diversity jurisdiction, the case was eventually remanded to the Pennsylvania court, where it was transferred to the Complex Litigation Center Pelvic Mesh Mass Tort Program. Relevant to Hammons’ claim, Plaintiffs alleged that Ethicon “designed, manufactured, packaged, labeled, marketed, sold, and distributed” the Prolift Kit. Plaintiffs named Secant as a defendant, claiming that it “designed, tested, inspected, wove, knitted, cut, treated, packaged, manufactured, marketed, and/or sold a mesh made from polypropylene and/or other synthetically derived filaments that was the actual mesh utilized” in Ethicon’s Prolift Kits. This case presented a challenge to the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania over New Jersey corporate defendants, to a case filed by an Indiana resident. After reviewing recent decisions from the United States Supreme Court revising its personal jurisdiction jurisprudence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the imposition of personal jurisdiction in this case met the relevant constitutional and statutory requirements, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Appellants, the manufacturers of various pesticides, appealed a Superior Court decision reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in their favor following the trial court’s determination that the testimony of the experts proffered by Appellee, the Executor of the Estate of Thomas J. Walsh, failed to satisfy the test set forth in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). For nearly forty years, Walsh served as a groundskeeper and golf course superintendent at several Pittsburgh area golf courses. His work involved the regular application of various pesticides (primarily insecticides and fungicides) on the golf courses. Over this time, Walsh kept a detailed record of his activities regarding the pesticides he used, including a detailed log of the specific products and the dates of their applications. In 2008, Walsh was suffering from fever, chills, and a cough when he arrived at an emergency room. A bone marrow biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (“AML”). Cytogenetic testing revealed significant chromosomal aberrations. On February 2, 2009, Walsh died. His treating oncologist, James Rossetti, D.O., later opined that Walsh’s extensive exposure to pesticides raised a high degree of suspicion that said exposure played a significant role in the development of his AML. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling, but gave instructions that on remand to the trial court, the Appellants should be given the opportunity to renew their Frye motions. View "Walsh v. BASF Corporation et al." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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