Articles Posted in Products Liability

Roundup weedkiller has been used for years as a pesticide. The pesticide, manufactured by Monsanto, uses the active ingredient glyphosate, which many claim causes cancer. In a recent decision that has implications for Maryland injury victims and Roundup users, a federal appeals court upheld a jury verdict finding that Roundup caused the plaintiff’s cancer.

The plaintiff in the case used Roundup for years on his land in California and alleged that his use of Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The trial was held in 2019 and the jury awarded the plaintiff over $5 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitive damages. The court subsequently reduced the punitive damages award to $20 million. Two similar cases were heard in 2018 and 2019 and the juries also found in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them millions of dollars.

On appeal, Monsanto argued in part that it did not know and could not have known that glyphosate caused cancer in 2012 when the plaintiff stopped using Roundup. However, the appeals court found there was sufficient evidence supporting a link between glyphosate and cancer that it could have known the information in 2012. For example, in 1985, the EPA found glyphosate was a possible human carcinogen. Although it changed its designation to “non-carcinogenic” in 1991, there were various studies that linked glyphosate and cancer during the 1990s. Monsanto later hired a genotoxicologist who found evidence that glyphosate might be genotoxic and recommended that Monsanto conduct tests on Roundup’s genotoxicity. Other studies that linked glyphosate and cancer were also released by 2012. Thus, there was sufficient evidence that the link between glyphosate and cancer was “knowable” by 2012.

When we buy products from the store, we expect them to be safe. Some products, however, are defective and can injure consumers. Sometimes, products are defectively designed. Other times, the design is safe, but a mistake was made during manufacturing that made the product dangerous. When these issues arise and injure people, those who are responsible can be held accountable.

In a recent state Supreme Court decision, the court considered a defective design products liability claim. An electric terminal manufacturer produced two functionally identical products for the same cost for over a decade, but the older of the two designs were more susceptible to failure. When a corporate affiliate of the manufacturer chose to use the older version when manufacturing new air conditioning products, a technician experienced severe burns when the product ignited and overheated. A jury concluded that the older design was unreasonably dangerous, and the failure of the manufacturer to warn of this hazard caused the technician’s injury. The manufacturer appealed.

On appeal, the state Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision and held that the jury’s finding of a design defect did not result in an improper verdict. To find that a defective design caused an individual’s injuries, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the product was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous, (2) a safer alternative existed, and (3) the defect was the cause of the injury. Because the jury found that the product was unreasonably dangerous and caused the technician’s injuries and that the manufacturer failed to adequately provide warnings about potential hazards, the Supreme Court affirmed. In addition, since there was another product that was functionally identical but less susceptible to failure, all three factors were met.

When looking at the various forms of contraceptive care available, some women choose the Paragard intrauterine device (IUD), a copper device inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy for up to ten years. The makers of the IUD claim that it is safe and effective, and many women who have one inserted experience no complications. But dozens of lawsuits claim that there are problems with the device, particularly in regard to its removal. It is important for women to know that, if they are injured due to a defect in their Paragard IUD, they may be able to recover financially against the developer or manufacturer of the product in a Maryland product liability lawsuit.

Many lawsuits have already been filed, and in December of last year, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated them into the Northern District of Georgia. As of February of this year, over 120 lawsuits are pending. These lawsuits make clear that some women have experienced significant injuries from Paragard, specifically when they went to have it removed. Lawyers claim that Paragard’s design is defective and that the device has a tendency to break upon removal. As a result, pieces of the device can go missing inside the uterus, or get lodged into an organ. Some women have experienced allergic reactions to the pieces left in the body, inflammation in the area, or infections. Others have experienced perforation of organs, including the uterus and cervix, and a loss of fertility. Some women even require surgery to remove broken pieces.

All of these injuries are significant and a cause for concern. They also highlight the importance of personal injury and product liability lawsuits. When someone suffers these injuries, they may be totally unprepared, and unsure what to do. The injuries can take a major toll—physically and financially. One day, everything is fine and the next the patient may be saddled with huge medical bills, a need for future follow-up care, and confusion about what happened. There may also be significant pain and suffering. The difficulty of these situations is exactly why so many Maryland patients injured by medical devices decide to file a personal injury lawsuit. The designers and manufacturers of these devices can be held liable when they are defective and hurt someone. While it does not undo the damage that has been done, it does provide some remedy, usually monetary damages. These damages at least ensure the patient is not struggling financially while recovering physically.

In a Maryland strict liability case, a plaintiff must show that there was a defect in the product that existed when the product left the defendant’s control, that the defect makes the product unreasonably dangerous, the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries, and that it was foreseeable that the product would be in such condition when it reached the consumer. A defect may include the failure to warn a consumer of the risks involved in using the product.

In considering a strict liability claim, a court will consider whether the plaintiff proved that the defendant’s conduct actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. In cases where only one negligent act is at issue, Maryland courts consider whether but-for the defendant’s conduct, the injuries would not have occurred. In cases where two or more independent acts caused the plaintiff’s injury, Maryland courts consider whether it is more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. A defendant may also try to defend against a strict liability claim by attempting to shift the blame on the consumer. A defendant may be successful if can show that the consumer was negligent by voluntarily and unreasonably confronting a known danger.

In a recent product liability case before a federal appeals court, the court considered whether the plaintiff had sufficiently proven a strict liability claim. In that case, the plaintiff rented an electric drain rodder from the Home Depot to unclog a drain in his home. He was using the device at home and because the powered reverse did not work, he tried to remove the cable by hand. The cable wrapped around his arm and he was thrown to the ground. His hand was badly injured and most of his right index finger had to be amputated. The plaintiff sued the Home Depot and the product manufacturer for negligence, breach of warranty, and strict product liability.

Companies regularly issue recalls for products that may cause illnesses or injuries to consumers. If an individual has been injured by a defective or unreasonably dangerous product, a recall of the product can serve as an indication that the product is unsafe in a Maryland product liability claim.

Complaints concerning products are investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency works to promote consumer safety by investigating and evaluating complaints and coordinating recalls. The CPSC can issue a voluntary recall or a mandatory recall, depending on the nature of the defect, though most CPSC recalls are voluntary recalls. The company responsible then must follow through to actually recall the product. The agency will announce the recall and offer a remedy to consumers affected by the recall.

Even if a consumer receives a replacement or a refund for the item, a consumer can still file a product liability claim against the company responsible for the defective product. Filing a claim against the responsible company allows injured consumers to recover compensation for their injuries due to the defect. There are different avenues for recovery in a product liability claim. For a strict liability claim based on a defective product, the plaintiff is not required to prove that the company acted negligently. Rather, the plaintiff must only demonstrate that the product was defective when it left the defendant’s control, that there was no substantial change in its condition before it reached the consumer, that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Negligence or breach of warranty may also provide avenues for recovery.

In Maryland injury cases based on a claim of strict liability, a defendant may claim that the plaintiff was also at fault for their injuries, raising the issue of contributory negligence. Maryland is among a small minority of states that follow the doctrine of contributory negligence, meaning that a plaintiff cannot recover if he is found to be even partially at fault.

Under Maryland law, contributory negligence of the consumer is not a defense in strict liability cases if the consumer’s negligence involves solely a failure to discover the product’s defect or to protect themselves from the possibility of such a defect. However, if the consumer’s contributory negligence concerns voluntarily and unreasonably confronting a known danger, that is a defense to strict liability.

Many other states apply the doctrine of comparative negligence, generally meaning that a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his proportion of fault. In that case, a plaintiff could have his damages reduced by his portion of fault, even if a strict liability case. In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court upheld such an award. In that case, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a crash after the front brake on his motorcycle failed. He sued Suzuki, the manufacturer and designer of the motorcycle, claiming that his injuries were caused by a design defect in the front master brake cylinder. Suzuki had issued a recall warning about a safety defect in the front brake master cylinder, and reportedly had known about the issue since well before the plaintiff’s accident. However, the plaintiff failed to replace the brake fluid every two years, and he had not done so for eight years.

In Maryland personal injury lawsuits, a plaintiff typically has to prove causation—that the defendant’s action (or failure to act) caused the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries. While this sounds straightforward, it can be incredibly complicated, especially as many courts consider two different types of causation necessary to win a case: direct and proximate causation. Direct causation is easier to understand—did the defendant’s action lead to the accident, such that but for the defendant’s action, the accident would not have happened? However, direct causation is not enough. Sometimes a defendant does something that directly leads to the accident, but the connection between the two is so disconnected that it is unfair to hold the defendant accountable.

For example, suppose that someone is hit by a car while riding their bike. They are uninjured, but their bike is totaled. Because of this, they have to ride the bus to work, and they slip and fall while exiting the bus hurting themselves. They might want to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the car who originally hit them while they were on their bike, because absent that accident, they would not have been on the bus and then would not have been injured. However, in this case, the driver’s actions would not be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s slip and fall injuries—the events are too separate from each other to hold the motorist responsible.

Recently, a state appellate court considered a slightly harder case on proximate causation. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff bought a cup of hot tea from Starbucks. When the drink was ready, she retrieved it from the store’s pick-up counter. The tea had a lid on it and was “double cupped”—the cup with the tea was placed inside a second empty cup. However, the plaintiff alleges that the cup was very hot, and that there wasn’t a sleeve around the outer cup. When she sat down, she removed the lid on her drink. While seated, she attempted to bend forward and take a sip from the open cup in front of her. While doing so, she tried to push the chair a bit, but it moved more than anticipated and lost her balance, grabbing onto the table and causing the drink to spill onto her thighs, burning her.

Maryland product liability lawsuits allow consumers to pursue a claim for compensation against the manufacturers, distributors, and resellers of hazardous products. A product liability suit filed against a responsible party may permit an injured plaintiff to recover a range of damages, and it is important for an accident victim to fully understand what may be available when determining the best course of action for their family.

The term damages refers to the financial compensation owed to an accident victim based on the other party’s wrongful conduct. In Maryland, damages are generally made up of compensatory damages, which are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages, also referred to as special damages, are damages that consist of a fixed dollar value, such as past and future medical bills, loss of income, transportation costs, and others. Non-economic damages, also referred to as general damages, are damages that do not have a fixed value, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and mental anguish. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim for their pain and losses. Generally, damages must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it is more likely than not to be true.

Punitive damages are also available in some Maryland cases. For a punitive damages award under Maryland law, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant acted with knowing and deliberate wrongdoing. This must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Punitive damages are generally reserved for cases involving egregious conduct, such as deliberately selling a defective product that the seller knew could cause physical harm without proper warnings. Punitive damages are meant to punish wrongful actors and to deter others from similar behavior. Statutory damages are also available in some cases based on mandates under the law.

A product recall is not a prerequisite to filing and winning a Maryland product liability claim. Yet, product recalls are often a precursor to litigation against the seller, because a recall is an indication that the product is not safe for its intended use. If a product is recalled because it is not safe for its intended use, the agency that called for a recall will offer a remedy for consumers affected by the recall. A consumer can still file a suit against the manufacturer, distributor, and often retailer of the unsafe product.

A government agency can suggest or require a company recall its product, but the company itself has to follow through and issue the recall itself. In some cases, an agency may issue a voluntary recall, and the offending company is left to decide whether to issue a recall. In other cases, an agency may issue a mandatory recall, and the offending company is required to issue a recall.

In a strict liability case, the plaintiff has to show in general that the defendant’s product was defective and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Unlike in a negligence case, in a strict liability case the plaintiff does not need to show that the defendant was negligent in some way but rather focus on the defective product. In the case of a misrepresentation related to a product, a potential plaintiff may be able to recover damages if the plaintiff relied on the misrepresentation and is harmed by the misrepresentation. A product must also adequately warn about potential dangers and risks inherent in a product and provide consumers with information about the correct use of the product if necessary.

Individuals pursuing a product liability case in Maryland courts can bring their claim under one or more of the three types of Maryland product liability claims: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects. Under Maryland law, a design defect case considers whether a manufacturer knew the risks inherent in the product and unreasonably put the product on the market despite the risk. This may mean, for example, that a product malfunctions due to its design or that it lacked a reasonable safety device. A design defect focuses on the risks and benefits of the product’s design and on the specifications for constructing a product.

A recent case before another state’s appeals court considered whether a rat was a product under strict liability law. In that case, a 10-year-old boy purchased a rat from a Petco store. Two weeks after the 10-year-old purchased the rat, he fell ill. He was taken to the hospital and died shortly after he arrived. It was later revealed that the boy contracted a rare bacterial infection — rat bite fever (RBF) — from the rat he had purchased at Petco and he died from complications related to the infection. The boy’s father filed a claim against Petco, alleging in part that the store was strictly liable for his son’s death. The man argued that the rat was a defective product and that Petco was liable under a strict products liability theory.

The appeals court held that a live pet animal sold in its unaltered state was not a “product” subject to the design defect consumer expectations theory. According to the evidence presented at trial, 10 to 100 percent of wild rats carry the bacteria streptobacillus moniliformis, the bacteria that causes the infection in humans. The court stated that a rat carrying streptobacillus moniliformis is not in a diseased condition (which would be the defect in this case), because the infection that the boy developed is developed by some humans after exposure to streptobacillus moniliformis. Thus, the court reasoned that the rat could not be a defective product. It further explained that in a design defect case there must be a “design” of the product, and that in this case, pet rats living in their natural state are not “designed.” Therefore, the rat living in its unaltered state could not be a product subject to a design defect theory. The court also reasoned that the store could not have prevented the defect because the animal was living in its natural state free from disease. The court noted that, although it rejected the design defect claim, the plaintiff could file claims of negligence, negligent warning, and warning and manufacturing strict liability causes of action.

Contact Information