Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Phong Lam v. United States
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers negligently failed to cut down a tree at the Lake Mendocino recreation area that crashed into plaintiff's tent and smashed his leg.The panel held that the discretionary function exception applies in this case because plaintiff has not shown any specific mandatory duties, has not defeated the Gaubert presumption, and has not negated the evidence of discretion for policy judgments. After outlining Supreme Court precedent for the Berkovitz/Gaubert test and its Ninth Circuit progeny, the panel applied this precedent to the plain language of the policies that controlled the actions of the forest ranger and the Corps' employees at Lake Mendocino. In doing so, the panel concluded that the policies allow for discretion and that they are susceptible to the policy analysis the discretionary function exception was designed to protect. View "Phong Lam v. United States" on Justia Law
Childress v. Costco Wholesale Corp.
The Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Montana Supreme Court: Whether, under Montana law, parasitic emotional distress damages are available for an underlying negligence claim for personal property damages or loss. View "Childress v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law
Nanouk v. United States
Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law
Jordan v. SSA Terminals, LLC
Jordan worked for SSA as a longshoreman and operated a small landscaping business. In 2014, the truck Jordan was driving was dropped by a crane. He suffered extensive damage to his lower back. After treatment by medication and physical therapy, Jordan had spinal fusion surgery. Before the 2018 surgery. Jordan sought benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 901–50. SSA agreed that Jordan was totally disabled immediately following the accident and again as he recovered from surgery. Surveillance videos, recorded in 2015-2016, showed Jordan engaging in physical activities and attending events where he apparently sat and stood for long periods without difficulty. Jordan testified, “There’s nothing I can’t do, but it all either is painful, elevates the pain, or I can’t do it for the amount of time that would be considered a job.” Jordan continued his landscaping but testified that his capacity was limited. Dr. Reynolds corroborated Jordan’s complaints of pain and opined that Jordan was totally disabled from work as a longshoreman.The Ninth Circuit remanded the denial of benefits. Credible complaints of severe, persistent, and prolonged pain, arising out of an injury, can establish a prima facie case of disability, even if the claimant can literally perform his past work. The claimant need not experience excruciating pain to be considered disabled. The ALJ apparently erroneously believed Jordan had to establish that it was literally impossible for him to do his past work. View "Jordan v. SSA Terminals, LLC" on Justia Law
Booker v. C.R. Bard, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment for plaintiff in an action alleging product-liability claims based on injuries she sustained from a medical device -- the G2 intravascular filter -- designed and manufactured by Bard. The jury found Bard liable for negligent failure to warn, awarding $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.The panel held that, because Bard's preemption defense presented a purely legal question, it would consider the merits of the district court's denial of its motion for summary judgment. The panel held that the preemption argument fails because Booker's claim rests on an asserted state-law duty to warn of the risks posed by the particular design of Bard's G2 Filter, and the FDA has not imposed any requirements related to the design of that device or how a device of that design should be labeled. In regard to the failure-to-warn claim, the panel held that Georgia courts had not adopted a categorical prohibition on basing a failure-to-warn claim on the absence of a comparative warning, and the district court correctly allowed the jury to decide the adequacy of the warning. Finally, the panel held that the evidence was adequate to support the jury's award of punitive damages. View "Booker v. C.R. Bard, Inc." on Justia Law
Dent v. National Football League
The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal of a third amended complaint (TAC) brought by plaintiffs, a putative class of former NFL players, alleging that the NFL negligently facilitated the hand-out of controlled substances to dull players' pain and to return them to the game in order to maximize profits. The NFL allegedly conducted studies and promulgated rules regarding how Clubs should handle distribution of the medications at issue, but failed to ensure compliance with them, with medical ethics, or with federal laws such as the Controlled Substances Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.The panel agreed with the district court that two of plaintiffs' theories of negligence, negligence per se and special relationship, were insufficiently pled. However, the panel held that plaintiff's voluntary undertaking theory survives dismissal, given sufficient allegations in the TAC of the NFL's failure to "use its authority to provide routine and important safety measures" regarding distribution of medications and returning athletes to play after injury. Furthermore, if proven, a voluntary undertaking theory could establish a duty owed by the NFL to protect player safety after injury, breach of that duty by incentivizing premature return to play, and liability for resulting damages. View "Dent v. National Football League" on Justia Law
Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 Health Care Fund v. Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claims based on lack of RICO standing in a putative class action brought against pharmaceutical companies. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the companies refused to change the warning label of their drug Actos or otherwise inform the public after they learned that the drug increased a patient’s risk of developing bladder cancer.The panel held that patients and health insurance companies who reimbursed patients adequately alleged the required element of proximate cause where they alleged that, but for defendant's omitted mention of a drug's known safety risk, they would not have paid for the drug. The panel agreed with the First and Third Circuits that plaintiffs' damages were not too far removed from defendants' alleged omissions and misrepresentations to satisfy RICO's proximate cause requirement. In this case, plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a direct relationship, and the Holmes factors weighed in favor of permitting their RICO claims to proceed. The panel explained that, although prescribing physicians served as intermediaries between defendants' fraudulent omission of Actos's risk of causing bladder cancer and plaintiffs' payments for the drug, prescribing physicians did not constitute an intervening cause to cut off the chain of proximate causation. The panel also held that plaintiffs have adequately alleged the reliance necessary to satisfy RICO's proximate cause requirement. View "Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 Health Care Fund v. Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co." on Justia Law
Weber v. Allergan, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Allergan in an action under state law alleging that plaintiff suffered injuries when her breast implants bled silicone into her body. Through the Medical Device Amendments (MDA) to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), Congress permitted FDA oversight of medical devices; the MDA expressly preempts state law regulation of medical devices; and for a state law claim regarding a Class III medical device to survive express preemption by the MDA, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant violated an FDA requirement.In this case, the panel held that plaintiff failed to show that Allergan violated a federal requirement for its Style 20 breast implant. The panel held that plaintiff failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact that Allergan violated the FDA's pre-market approval and Current Good Manufacturing Practices. Therefore, plaintiff has now shown a violation of an FDA requirement, which she must for her state law claims to fit through the narrow exception to MDA preemption. View "Weber v. Allergan, Inc." on Justia Law
Kim v. United States
Plaintiffs filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) after two boys were killed when a tree limb fell onto their tent in Yosemite National Park. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the fraudulent concealment claim, and reversed the dismissal of the negligence-based claims.The panel held that, regardless of whether the FTCA's discretionary function exception might apply to some hypothetical decision not to inspect the campground, the panel must decide whether park officials are shielded from liability for their conduct in actually inspecting that area once they undertook to do so; once they undertook to inspect trees in the campground, park officials were required to do so in accordance with their established policies; and while it was unclear whether the families will succeed in showing that officials were actually negligent in evaluating the tree under the park's Seven-Point system, such evaluation was not exempt from the scope of the FTCA.The panel also held that the discretionary function exception did not bar plaintiffs' claim that the government negligently failed to give park visitors any warning about the tree. In regard to the fraudulent concealment claim, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing the claim under the FTCA's misrepresentation exception. View "Kim v. United States" on Justia Law
Stephens v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
In the context of asbestos claims, the substantial-factor test requires demonstrating that the injured person had substantial exposure to the relevant asbestos for a substantial period of time. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Union Pacific in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that secondary exposure to asbestos exposure caused his mesothelioma. Plaintiff alleged negligence and related claims under Idaho law, stemming from his father's work at a Union Pacific roadhouse where he was exposed to asbestos and then carried the asbestos home to expose plaintiff.The panel held that plaintiff failed to establish that he was regularly exposed to asbestos attributable to Union Pacific, and rejected plaintiff's contentions of error regarding expert testimony. Therefore, plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact on whether his secondary exposure was a substantial factor in causing his disease, and he could not prevail on his negligence claims. View "Stephens v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law