Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Wilden, age 19, and her infant son were involved in a traffic accident with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Wilden suffered severe brain damage when her sedan was pulled beneath the side of the trailer in a “side-underride” crash. The remaining defendant is Great Dane, the trailer’s manufacturer. The district court excluded plaintiffs’ expert-witness testimony about an alternative design that allegedly would have prevented, or at least mitigated, Wilden’s injuries. That alternative design is a “telescoping side guard.” An ordinary, fixed-position side guard would block the space underneath the side of the trailer so that, in a crash, automobiles would not go underneath. A telescoping side guard would also slide and expand to protect the space opened up when a truck’s sliding rear-axle— which trucks use to meet weight-per-axle regulations—is moved toward the rear of the truck. Although elements of the telescoping design have existed for some time, and computer simulations suggest that the design could work, nobody has ever built or tested one in the real world. The court held that the testimony of the two experts was unreliable and inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Great Dane. Given the total absence of real-world, physical-prototype testing and that neither expert had designed a telescoping side guard, the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the evidence. View "Wilden v. Laury Transportation, LLC" on Justia Law

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Upsher-Smith manufactures a generic form of amiodarone hydrochloride, which is FDA-approved as a drug of last resort for patients suffering from ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, life-threatening heartbeat irregularities. As a generic manufacturer, Upsher-Smith is required to ensure that it includes the same labeling approved for its brand-name counterpart. 21 U.S.C. 355(j)(2)(A)(v), including making “Medication Guides” available for distribution to each patient with each prescription, 21 C.F.R. 208.24(b). Medication Guides explain the approved uses of a drug and its side effects “in nontechnical, understandable language.” The Guide for amiodarone warns that the drug “should only be used in adults with life-threatening heartbeat problems.” Lung damage is listed as a “serious side effect” that may continue after ceasing treatment. McDaniel sued Upsher-Smith, alleging that her husband died because he took amiodarone to treat his non-life threatening atrial fibrillation. Johnny apparently did not receive the Medication Guide when he filled his prescriptions in May and June 2015; Upsher-Smith neglected to ensure its availability. He was unaware that only adults with life-threatening heartbeat problems who had unsuccessfully sought alternative treatments should take the drug. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the failure-to-warn claims with prejudice, holding that they were impliedly preempted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. McDaniel failed to cite any Tennessee duty paralleling the federal duty to provide a Medication Guide, so the claims would not exist without the Act. View "McDaniel v. Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Leone’s employer used a degasser, a large vat lined with brick, to extract gas impurities from molten steel. The degasser’s components include an alloy chute near the top of the vat. The employer hired BMI to “tearout” the degasser’s deteriorated face brick. Although the contract did not include any work on the alloy chute, a BMI employee testified that his team would dislodge loose material from the chute to ensure that nothing could fall. He did not notice any loose slag on the chute. After BMI finished, his employer assigned Leone to reline the degasser. Leone and his crew frequently climbed ladders near the alloy chute. They never spotted any loose slag on the chute but, 21 days after BMI completed its one-day job, a 40-pound piece of slag fell and struck Leone. Leone sued, claiming that the slag detached from the alloy chute. Because no molten metal could have created new slag, the court concluded that the slag must have existed when BMI finished but that BMI owed Leone no duty of care under Michigan law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court interpreted Michigan law too narrowly. Although a contractor’s creation of a new hazard can trigger a duty to third parties, that is not the only way that such a duty might arise. A contractor can be liable to a third party if “any legal duty independent of the contract existed,” including by voluntary assumption of a duty. View "Leone v. BMI Refractory Services., Inc." on Justia Law

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Raymond, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was born in 1947 and was a long-term resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky. He worked in the coal-mining industry for over 20 years and developed severe respiratory issues. Raymond, a non-smoker, sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901, but died while his claim was pending. Raymond’s claim was consolidated with a claim for survivor’s benefits submitted by his widow, Joanna. The ALJ awarded benefits to Joanna, on both Raymond’s behalf, and as his surviving spouse. The Benefits Review Board affirmed. Zurich, the insurer of Straight Creek Coal, sought review. The Sixth Circuit denied Zurich’s petition, upholding the ALJ’s conclusions that Zurich failed to rebut the presumption of timeliness, that Raymond had worked for at least 15 years in qualifying employment, and that Raymond had a total respiratory disability. Raymond worked only in surface mines or coal-preparation plants during his career; the ALJ properly relied on 20 C.F.R. 718.305(b)(2) and determined whether Raymond’s mining employment was “substantially similar” to underground mining. View "Zurich American Insurance Group v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Dr. Menendez treated 15-year-old Garber for a fever, constipation, and back pain. Garber became a paraplegic. The state court dismissed Garber’s initial lawsuit because he failed to file an affidavit from an expert witness in support of his claim. In his second lawsuit, Garber tried to serve Menendez at his Ohio office, but (unbeknownst to him) Menendez had retired to Florida. Garber voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Garber sued Menendez a third time in May 2017 and properly served him. Ohio provides a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, Ohio Rev. Code 2305.113, which began running on August 5, 2013, when Garber turned 18. Garber argued that Ohio tolls the statute of limitations when the defendant “departs from the state.” The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The court rejected an argument that the statute’s differential treatment of residents and non-residents violates the dormant Commerce Clause by disincentivizing individuals from leaving Ohio and offering their services (or retirement spending) in other states. The Ohio tolling provision does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce any more than many other policy benefits reserved for residents of a given state, including the existence of an estate tax for Ohioans but not for Floridians. View "Garber v. Menendez" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Dr. Menendez treated 15-year-old Garber for a fever, constipation, and back pain. Garber became a paraplegic. The state court dismissed Garber’s initial lawsuit because he failed to file an affidavit from an expert witness in support of his claim. In his second lawsuit, Garber tried to serve Menendez at his Ohio office, but (unbeknownst to him) Menendez had retired to Florida. Garber voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. Garber sued Menendez a third time in May 2017 and properly served him. Ohio provides a one-year statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims, Ohio Rev. Code 2305.113, which began running on August 5, 2013, when Garber turned 18. Garber argued that Ohio tolls the statute of limitations when the defendant “departs from the state.” The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The court rejected an argument that the statute’s differential treatment of residents and non-residents violates the dormant Commerce Clause by disincentivizing individuals from leaving Ohio and offering their services (or retirement spending) in other states. The Ohio tolling provision does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce any more than many other policy benefits reserved for residents of a given state, including the existence of an estate tax for Ohioans but not for Floridians. View "Garber v. Menendez" on Justia Law

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Grimsby invited Nancy to take a boat trip on Lake Erie. The boat hit a wave, jarring the passengers and injuring Nancy. In her suit, invoking the court’s diversity and admiralty jurisdiction, Nancy pleaded that “this action is not to be deemed an ‘admiralty and maritime claim’ within the meaning of” Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In 2015, the district court held that the incident fell within the court’s admiralty jurisdiction, meaning that federal maritime law controlled the duty of care. In 2016, the court held that a boat hitting a wave did not count as a “collision” under the Coast Guard Navigation Rules. A jury subsequently found that Grimsby was not negligent. The court granted Nancy’s motion for a new trial, finding that the evidence did not support the verdict. Grimsby filed an interlocutory appeal, and Nancy cross-appealed, citing the interlocutory exception to the final judgment rule that applies to admiralty cases. The Sixth Circuit dismissed. The exception does not apply because Nancy chose to pursue claims under ordinary civil procedures. View "Buccina v. Grimsby" on Justia Law

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Heimer, one year over the legal drinking age, drank alcohol with friends and then rode motorbikes in a field. Heimer and his friend collided. Heimer suffered extensive injuries, incurring more than $197,333.50 in medical bills. Heimer’s blood alcohol level shortly after the crash was 0.152, nearly twice the limit to legally use an off-road vehicle in Michigan. Heimer was insured. As required by his plan, he submitted a medical claim form shortly after the accident. The plan administrator denied coverage based on an exclusion for “[s]ervices, supplies, care or treatment of any injury or [s]ickness which occurred as a result of a Covered Person’s illegal use of alcohol.” After exhausting administrative appeals, Heimer filed suit. The district court held that the plan exclusion did not encompass Heimer’s injuries, reasoning that there is a difference between the illegal use of alcohol—such as drinking while under 21 or drinking in defiance of a court order—and illegal post-consumption conduct, such as the illegal use of a motor vehicle. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Reading “illegal use of alcohol” to disclaim coverage only for the illegal consumption of alcohol, and not for illegal post-consumption conduct is consistent with the ordinary meaning of “use” and best gives effect to the contract as a whole. View "Heimer v. Companion Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Doe and her daughter flew aboard Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Chicago. During the journey, Doe’s tray table remained open because a knob had fallen off. Doe’s daughter found the knob on the floor; Doe placed it in a seatback pocket. When a flight attendant reminded Doe to place her tray in the locked position for landing, Doe attempted to explain by reaching into the seatback pocket to retrieve the knob. She was pricked by a hypodermic needle that lay hidden within, which drew blood. Doe sought damages from Etihad for her physical injury and her “mental distress, shock, mortification, sickness and illness, outrage and embarrassment from natural sequela of possible exposure to” various diseases. Her husband claimed loss of consortium. The court granted Etihad partial summary judgment, citing the Montreal Convention of 1999, an international treaty, which imposes capped strict liability “for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft.” The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred in reading an additional “caused by” requirement into the treaty and concluding that Doe’s bodily injury did not cause her emotional and mental injuries. The Convention allows Doe to recover all her “damage sustained” from the incident. View "Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C." on Justia Law

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A tree fell on Kaitlyn and Joshua. Kaitlyn died. She was pregnant. Doctors delivered the baby, but he died an hour later. Joshua survived with serious injuries. A state jury found the Somerset Housing Authority liable and awarded $3,736,278. The Authority belonged to the Kentucky Housing Authorities Self-Insurance Fund, which provided a policy with Evanston. Evanston sought a declaratory judgment limiting its liability under the Fund’s policy to $1 million. Meanwhile, through mediation of the state court case, Evanston agreed to pay the “policy limits” in return for an agreement to dismiss the state court action and release the Authority from further liability. Evanston claimed that $1 million was the coverage cap; the defendants claimed it was $2 to $4 million. The district court determined that there was complete diversity and ruled for Evanston on the merits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court properly aligned the parties given their respective interests in the primary dispute at the time of filing, so that diversity jurisdiction was not destroyed. The policy obligates Evanston to provide a maximum of $1 million of coverage per “occurrence,” with an aggregate limit of $2 million for more than one occurrence. The contract defines “occurrence” as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” When one tree falls at one time, that is one occurrence and one accident. View "Evanston Insurance Co. v. Housing Authority of Somerset" on Justia Law