Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Adams had a long history with hip pain and, in September 2010, was diagnosed with advanced degenerative arthritis. The doctor recommended a total hip replacement, expected to last 15-20 years, Her Zimmer hip device was implanted in January 2011. In late 2012, she started experiencing severe pain. The cause was not clear. Her February 2015 revision surgery revealed that the implant had been discharging excessive and potentially toxic metal debris into Adams’s hip. Pennsylvania’s discovery rule delays the start of the statute-of-limitations period until a plaintiff knows or reasonably should know she has suffered an injury caused by another. Adams claimed that she reasonably did not know until February 2015 that the implant caused the injuries for which she filed suit in February 2017. Zimmer contended she should have discovered her injury when she agreed to undergo revision surgery. The district court rejected Adams’s claim as untimely under the two-year statute of limitations. The Third Circuit reversed. In entering summary judgment, the district court resolved issues of fact regarding the timing of Adams’s discovery that her pain was caused not by her poor adjustment to the implant but instead by the implant itself. Pennsylvania law delegates to a factfinder any genuine dispute over when a plaintiff should reasonably have discovered her injury. View "Adams v. Zimmer US, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a confrontational screening at Philadelphia International Airport in 2006, during which police were called, Pellegrino asserted intentional tort claims against TSA screeners. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government generally enjoys sovereign immunity for intentional torts committed by federal employees, subject to the “law enforcement proviso” exception, which waives immunity for a subset of intentional torts committed by employees who qualify as “investigative or law enforcement officers,” 28 U.S.C. 2680(h). The Third Circuit first affirmed the dismissal of Pellegrino’s suit, holding that TSA screeners are not “investigative or law enforcement officers.” On rehearing, en banc, the court reinstated the suit. The words of the proviso dictate the result: TSOs are “officer[s] of the United States” empowered to “execute searches” for “violations of Federal law.” View "Pellegrino v. Transportation Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law

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Multidistrict litigation was formed to handle claims filed by former professional football players against the NFL based on concussion-related injuries. The district court (Judge Brody) approved a settlement agreement, effective January 2017. The Third Circuit affirmed; the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Under the agreement, approximately 200,000 class members surrendered their claims in exchange for proceeds from an uncapped settlement fund. Class members had to submit medical records reflecting a qualifying diagnosis. The Claims Administrator determines whether the applicant qualifies for an award. In March 2017, the claims submission process opened for class members who had been diagnosed with a qualifying illness before January 7, 2017. Other class members had to receive a diagnosis from a practitioner approved through the settlement Baseline Assessment Program (BAP). Class members could register for BAP appointments beginning in June 2017. While waiting to receive their awards, hundreds of class members entered into cash advance agreements with litigation funding companies, purporting to “assign” their rights to settlement proceeds in exchange for immediate cash. Class members did not assign their legal claims against the NFL. Judge Brody retained jurisdiction over the administration of the settlement agreement, which included an anti-assignment provision. Class counsel advised Judge Brody that he was concerned about predatory lending. Judge Brody ordered class members to inform the Claims Administrator of all assignment agreements, and purported to void all such agreements, directing a procedure under which funding companies could accept rescission and return of the principal amount they had advanced. The Third Circuit vacated. Despite having the authority to void prohibited assignments, the court went too far in voiding the cash advance agreements and voiding contractual provisions that went only to a lender’s right to receive funds after the player acquired them. View "In Re: National Football League Players Concussion Injury Litigation." on Justia Law

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In the mid-1980s, merchant mariners filed thousands of lawsuits in the Northern District of Ohio against shipowners, asserting that the mariners had been injured due to exposure to asbestos onboard ships. The District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ultimately presided over a nationwide asbestos products multidistrict litigation (MDL) and dismissed claims against numerous defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction. In a third appeal, the Third Circuit concluded that dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was inappropriate. The shipowner-defendants timely moved for dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction in the Northern District of Ohio, after which they had to choose between waiving their personal jurisdiction defenses and remaining in the Northern District of Ohio, or submitting to transfer to a court where personal jurisdiction existed. By objecting to transfer, the defendants constructively opted to waive their personal jurisdiction defenses. The court noted that the shipowners also filed answers in the Northern District of Ohio after the parties expressly agreed that they could demonstrate a waiver of the defense by filing an answer. View "In re: Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI)" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Philadelphia police found drugs and a gun in an apartment that they thought was Randall’s. They arrested Randall. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office charged him but dropped all the charges in August 2015. When he was arrested in Philadelphia, he was already on probation in New Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Hearing about his arrest, both jurisdictions issued detainers for him. After dropping the charges, Pennsylvania released Randall into New Jersey’s custody. He remained in custody, first in New Jersey and then in Delaware County, until December 24, 2015. On December 26, 2017, Randall sued the Philadelphia Law Department and the police officers who had arrested him under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed Randall’s claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting Randall’s “continuing-violation” argument. Section 1983 borrows the underlying state’s statute of limitations for personal-injury torts. In Pennsylvania, that period is two years. When a Section 1983 claim accrues is a matter of federal law, under which a malicious-prosecution claim accrues when criminal proceedings end in the plaintiff’s favor. For Randall, that happened in August 2015, so he had until August 2017 to file his suit unless something tolled the statute of limitations. The continuing-violation doctrine focuses on continuing acts, not continuing injury. No Philadelphia defendant detained Randall beyond August 2015. View "Randall v. Philadelphia Law Department" on Justia Law

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Sikkelee was killed when a Cessna aircraft he was piloting crashed after taking off from North Carolina's Transylvania County Airport. The aircraft had a Lycoming engine; Sikkelee's widow alleged the aircraft lost power due to a defect in the design of the engine and its carburetor. The FAA had issued Lycoming a type certificate for the engine, certifying that the design performs properly and satisfies federal regulations. Sikkelee’s widow brought strict liability and negligence claims against Lycoming, alleging design defect. The Third Circuit held that Sikkelee’s state-law claims are not barred based on the doctrine of field preemption. On remand, the district court concluded the claims were conflict-preempted and that Lycoming was entitled to summary judgment on Sikkelee’s strict liability and negligence claims based on Pennsylvania law. The court granted Lycoming summary judgment on Sikkelee’s claim that Lycoming violated 14 C.F.R. 21.3 by failing to notify the FAA of the alleged defect. The Third Circuit reversed in part, rejecting an argument that Sikkelee’s claims were conflict-preempted because FAA regulations made it impossible for Lycoming to unilaterally implement design changes Pennsylvania law allegedly would have required. Lycoming has not produced clear evidence that the FAA would not have allowed it to change the design set forth in the type certificate. Summary judgment on Sikkelee’s strict liability and negligence claims was inappropriate because there are genuine disputes of material fact concerning causation. Summary judgment was proper on the failure-to-notify-the-FAA claim. View "Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp" on Justia Law

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Sauers and his wife were driving southbound on Route 209 in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania. Officer Homanko was on patrol, traveling in the same direction when he observed a summary traffic offense committed by a Dodge in the northbound lane. Homanko turned around to pursue the Dodge. He radioed police in the neighboring borough to request that officers there pull the Dodge over when it reached their jurisdiction. Homanko then began a chase at speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour. Several people observed him driving recklessly. Homanko lost control while negotiating a curve. His car spun around, crossed the centerline into southbound traffic, and crashed into Sauers’s car. The accident seriously injured Sauers and killed his wife. Homanko subsequently pled guilty to vehicular homicide, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of reckless or grossly negligent driving, and reckless endangerment. Sauers – individually and as administrator of his wife’s estate – filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing a “state-created danger” theory of liability. The Third Circuit vacated the denial of Homanko’s motion for dismissal based on qualified immunity; it was not clearly established at the time of the crash that Homanko’s conduct, as alleged in the complaint, could give rise to constitutional liability under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court commented, however, that it hoped to establish clear law with its decision. View "Sauers v. Borough of Nesquehoning" on Justia Law

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Estrada filed a purported class action on behalf of: “All persons who purchased [Johnson & Johnson] Baby Powder in California and states with laws that do not conflict with the laws asserted here.” The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that a plaintiff—who has entirely consumed a product that has functioned for her as expected— has not suffered an economic injury solely because she now sincerely wishes that she had not purchased that product. Buyer’s remorse, without more, is not a cognizable injury under Article III. The court noted that Estrada did not allege that a product has caused her physical injury, nor does she allege even an increased risk of developing cancer; she makes no claim of emotional injury, nor did she describe a defective product. She bought the product regularly for decades and completely consumed what she purchased. Her theory of recovery is simply that she suffered an economic injury by purchasing improperly marketed Baby Powder and that, had she been properly informed that using Baby Powder could lead to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, she would not have purchased it. View "Estrada v. Johnson & Johnson" on Justia Law

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Viviani left Stone Mansion with Hoey. Their vehicle crashed, killing Viviani and seriously injuring Hoey. Hoey sued Viviani’s estate, which tendered the defense to Encompass, which paid Hoey $600,000. Hoey released her claims. Encompass sued Mansion, alleging: it stands in the shoes of the insured estate; Mansion served Viviani alcohol while he was visibly intoxicated; under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law, a business that serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is legally responsible for any damage that person might cause; and under the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA). In email correspondence, Mansion’s counsel informed Encompass that “I will be authorized to accept service.” Encompass sent counsel a copy of the filed complaint and an acceptance form via email. Counsel replied, “I will hold the acceptance ... [for] the docket n[umber].” That same day, Encompass provided the docket number. Mansion later claimed that, because it had not been properly served, it could remove the case to federal court. Encompass sought remand. The court concluded that the forum defendant rule precludes removal only if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the state and that counsel did not accept service. The court then dismissed: The Dram Shop law indicates that a licensee is liable only to third persons (Hoey), for damages inflicted upon the third person (off premises) by the licensee's customer when the licensee furnishes that customer with alcohol when he was visibly intoxicated. … Encompass is acting as if it were Viviani in order to recover under [UCATA]. Because there is no potential cognizable Dram Shop claim between Viviani/Encompass and Mansion, there is no contribution claim. The Third Circuit upheld removal of the case, rejecting an argument that it is “inconceivable” that Congress intended the rule to permit an in-state defendant to remove an action by delaying service of process. Stone Mansion’s conduct did not preclude removal. The court reversed the dismissal. Encompass does not argue that it is entitled to recovery in tort against Stone Mansion but presents a distinct claim for contribution under the UCATA. Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law does not prohibit this manner of recovery. View "Encompass Insurance Co v. Stone Mansion Restaurant Inc" on Justia Law