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Posts Tagged ‘product liability class action’

Ok, just a bit further…

Mark Herrmann, former contributor to the wildly successful Drug and Device Law Blog, sent me a note the other day that his book co-authored with Jones Day Partner David B. Alden entitled Drug and Device Product Liability Litigation Strategy (Oxford Univ. Press 2011) is now available.  Here is a link to the book’s page on OUP’s website, where you can get more information and order a copy.

The following is a slightly edited version of the summary that he sent me:

The book is generally a reference work, so big chunks of the book simply bring a beginner up to speed on the defense of drug and device product liability cases. But we say a few things in the book that are new and different. Some of the interesting stuff includes:

1. At pages 181 to 186, we analyze every motion to centralize drug or device cases filed with the MDL Panel from the Panel’s creation through the end of 2010. We count the number of motions granted and denied, and we break down the percentages by time period, showing that the Panel has become slightly more likely to centralize cases as time has passed.

2. At pages 219 to 222, we analyze the use of “direct filing provisions,” which allow plaintiffs to file their complaints directly in the MDL transferee court, rather than being required to file in their home courts and then asking the MDL Panel to transfer the cases. If litigants are not careful, direct filings provisions can alter the applicable choice-of-law analysis, change the identity of the court that tries the case, or alter the trial court’s personal jurisdiction over third-party defendants.

3. Finally, our discussion of the scope of preemption for prescription drugs after the Supreme Court’s decision in Wyeth v. Levine may be noteworthy. At pages 339 to 343, we identify five situations in which claims against prescription drug manufacturers may be preempted even after the Supreme Court’s restriction of preemption in Levine.

We’d love to start a conversation on these issues. And, if we’ve taken the time to write the book, we’d sure like interested folks to know that the book exists.

I have not had a chance to read it yet, but given Herrmann’s body of work on Drug and Device Law Blog, it is guaranteed to be of the highest quality.  It sounds like the quintessential guide to the very specialized area of mass tort and class action litigation, authored by two of the world’s foremost experts on the subject.

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Baker & Hostetler‘s products liability and construction litigation practice teams issued an Executive Alert today on class action and other litigation involving allegedly defective drywall manufactured in China.  This is a litigation trend that has been getting quite a bit of press lately.  Here is an excerpt from the Alert:

Florida homeowners have filed at least six class action lawsuits alleging violations of product liability statues and state consumer fraud statutes, negligence and breach of express and implied warranties. Similar class action lawsuits have also been filed in Alabama and Louisiana. The alleged defective Chinese drywall was reportedly first used around 2002 during the housing construction boom, particularly in Florida. An estimated 60,000 homes in the U.S. may be affected.

As more complaints and lawsuits surface, businesses that were involved with the manufacture, supply or installation of Chinese drywall will likely encounter related legal and economic challenges and could face long, expensive legal battles.

For the entire Alert, click this link to the firm’s website:

http://www.bakerlaw.com/chinese-drywall-litigation-how-best-to-protect-your-company-05-18-2009/

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The Jerusalem Times published an interesting op-ed article today praising a Tel Aviv court’s decision in a consumer class action.  The case arose out of allegations that the defendant had knowingly used a carcinogenic silicon compound to line its milk cartons. 

The class action was brought not on behalf of a class of persons alleged to have been physically harmed by the milk consumption, but rather on behalf of a class of consumers who would not have purchased the defendants’ product had they known about the potential dangers.   The article describes this consumer fraud theory as a “legal innovation” that was pivotal to the outcome in the face of the defendant’s argument that it should not be held liable because the plaintiff could not prove physical harm resulting from exposure to the silicon.  The article goes on to express the hope that the case will be a “watershed which will encourage further class action suits,” arguing that while there is a perceived abuse of class actions in the U.S., Israel suffers “from the opposite problem: not enough class action suits.”

Of course, the “legal innovation” described by the article is nothing new in the U.S.  Faced with the problem of being unable to prove injury or damages for a products liability claim on a class-wide basis, class action lawyers have often turned to consumer fraud theories, especially in recent cases brought against the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.  My criticism of this tactic is that it is not well-suited to provide redress for those who truly suffered harm.  It seeks to compel the defendant to pay for its infraction, not for the benefit of those harmed by the dangerous product, but for an entirely different class of individuals who can claim at best that they were exposed to the danger (a fact which they would have remained blissfully ignorant but for the lawsuit).

In the Israeli case, the judge apparently found that consumers would not have purchased the defendants’ milk had they been apprised of all the facts.  If there truly were facts to support the conclusion that no reasonable consumer would have bought the product if the true facts had been disclosed, then maybe this is the right outcome.  But there are very few situations where this absolute conclusion is warranted.  Consumers buy products for any number of reasons, even products known to be dangerous or that have known negative health effects.  Tobacco is a clear example.  

Certainly, there is no justification for the kind of conduct as described in the article, and one could argue that the end justifies the means, but relying on a “the public wouldn’t have bought it if they had known it was dangerous” argument in what really should be products liability cases has always struck me as intellectually dishonest.  In these cases, the consumer fraud claim is little more than a pretext for imposing punishment for a bad act that lacks a clear harm or that has only individualized harms that don’t really meet the standards for class action treatment.  If a company is selling a dangerous product that causes physical harm, then tort law provides a civil remedy.  The fact that there may not be a collective remedy for those physical harms does not justify reliance on a legal fiction to create a means for collective redress on behalf of an over-inclusive class of people who weren’t truly harmed by defendant’s bad acts.  Perhaps better government enforcement, not more class action suits, is the answer.

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