Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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The estates of New Jersey nursing home residents, who died from COVID-19, alleged that the nursing homes acted negligently in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The nursing homes removed the case to federal court. The district court dismissed the cases for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.The Third Circuit affirmed rejecting three arguments for federal jurisdiction: federal-officer removal, complete preemption of state law, and the presence of a substantial federal issue. The 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), 42 U.S.C. 247d-6d, 247d6e, which protects certain individuals—such as pharmacies and drug manufacturers—from lawsuits during a public-health emergency, was invoked in March 2020 but does not apply because the nursing homes did not assist or help carry out the duties of a federal superior. The PREP Act creates an exclusive cause of action for willful misconduct but the estates allege only negligence, not willful misconduct; those claims do not fall within the scope of the exclusive federal cause of action and are not preempted. The PREP Act’s compensation fund is not an exclusive federal cause of action. The estates would properly plead their state-law negligence claims without mentioning the PREP Act, so the PREP Act is not “an essential element" of the state law claim. View "Estate of Joseph Maglioli v. Alliance HC Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Hamer underwent open-heart surgery using LivaNova’s 3T Heater-Cooler System. He developed an infection in the incision, which his physicians suspected stemmed from a non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM). The hospital had experienced an outbreak of NTM infections in other patients who had undergone surgery using the 3T System. Hamer’s treatment team never isolated NTM from any of the swabs or cultures. Hamer, alleging that his treatment caused him lasting injuries, filed suit under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) for failure to warn and inadequate design.Hamer’s case was transferred to Multidistrict Litigation case 2816, along with other cases alleging damages from the NTM infection caused by the 3T System. Case Management Order 15 (CMO 15) required plaintiffs to show “proof of NTM infection” through “positive bacterial culture results.” Hamer did not comply but opposed dismissal, claiming he had stated a prima facie claim under Louisiana law and sought remand.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal. The court could have dismissed Hamer’s claims without prejudice, could have suggested remand, or could have dismissed Hamer’s claims with prejudice, if it found that Hamer had not stated a prima facie case under Louisiana law. .Under the LPLA, Hamer’s facts might state a prima facie case for defective design. Hamer’s allegations may diverge from those of other cases in MDL 2816 in which an NTM infection was verified but stating alternative theories of liability cannot justify foreclosing his claims. View "Hamer v. LivaNova Deutschland GMBH" on Justia Law

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Sun made news ink at its East Rutherford facility and purchased a dust-collection system that included a Fike suppression system to contain explosions in case of a fire in the collection system. On the first day the system was fully operational, the dust-collection system caught fire. The suppression system activated an alarm that workers did not hear. After workers saw flames and extinguished the fire, an explosion sent flames out of the dust-collector system’s ducts, severely injuring several Sun employees and causing significant property damage. The ensuing government investigations caused Sun to end production at the facility.Sun sued Fike under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), N.J. Stat. 56:8-1, alleging that Fike misrepresented that: the suppression-system alarm would be audible and would comply with a specific industry standard; Fike would provide training to Sun employees; the suppression system had never experienced failures in the field; and the system was capable of preventing an explosion from entering the facility. The Third Circuit certified an issue to the New Jersey Supreme Court, then, consistent with the response, held that some of Sun’s CFA claims are absorbed and precluded by the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J. Stat. 2A:58C-1, and some are not. As to Sun’s remaining CFA claims, the court concluded that Sun demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sun Chemical Corp v. Fike Corp" on Justia Law

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Alita, her son, and her stepfather died in a fire that engulfed their Philadelphia apartment. With the building already burning, Alita had called 911. A fire department operator instructed her to remain inside, promising help was on the way. Firefighters initially drove to the wrong location and, at the scene, never learned that the family was waiting. The firefighters extinguished the blaze without a search, leaving all three trapped in their home where they perished from smoke inhalation. Days passed before firefighters returned and discovered their bodies. Their estates sued the city and two fire department employees.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The state-created danger theory does not apply. The dispatcher did not act affirmatively to create the danger, but only failed to communicate the family’s location, and the operator’s behavior did not shock the conscience. The employees neglected to relay the information through error, omission, or oversight. There is no plausible allegation that the city was deliberately indifferent to anyone’s substantive due process rights. Rejecting a negligence argument based on the history of problems at the residence, and failure to fix the building’s fire hazards, the court reasoned that the city was immune from these claims because it had insufficient control over the building. View "Johnson v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In 2009, D. was delivered at Sharon Hospital by Dr. Gallagher and sustained an injury, allegedly causing her shoulder and arm permanent damage. In 2010-2011, preparing to file D.’s malpractice case, counsel requested records from Sharon and Gallagher, limited temporally to the delivery. Counsel believed that Gallagher was privately employed. Sharon was private; Gallagher was listed on the Sharon website. Counsel did not discover that Gallagher was employed by Primary Health, a “deemed” federal entity eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), malpractice coverage. D.'s mother had been Gallagher's patient for 10 years and had visited the Primary office. In contracting Gallagher, counsel used the Primary office street address. Gallagher’s responses included the words “Primary Health.” The lawsuit was filed in 2016; Pennsylvania law tolls a minor plaintiff’s action until she turns 18.The government removed the suit to federal court and substituted the government for Gallagher. The district court dismissed the suit against the government for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the FTCA. The case against Sharon returned to state court. After exhausting administrative remedies, counsel refiled the FTCA suit. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as untimely, rejecting a claim that D. was entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period because counsel had no reason to know that Gallagher was a deemed federal employee or that further inquiry was required. D. failed to show that she diligently pursued her rights and that extraordinary circumstances prevented her from timely filing. View "D.J.S.-W. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Settlement Agreement between the NFL and eligible retired NFL players arose out of a class action based on findings that professional football players are at a significantly increased risk for serious brain injury. The Agreement is intended to provide monetary awards to former players who receive a qualifying diagnosis after following a specified protocol. The Agreement’s claims administrator and the district court created and adopted a set of clarifying, revised rules relating to how players can obtain a qualifying diagnosis.Several retired NFL players or their estates challenged those revised rules, arguing that they amended the Agreement, and alternatively, that the court abused its discretion by adopting the four revised rules. The Third Circuit upheld the rules, noting that the Agreement provided for the court’s continuing jurisdiction and specifies the duties of the claims administrator. The revised rules are permissible clarifications created for the Agreement’s successful administration—for example, to prevent fraud—and were not amendments. They were created, in part, because the claims administrator reviewed many claim submissions and noted that there were certain “clients of a law firm traveling thousands of miles to see the same physician rather than those available to them in their hometowns and excessively high numbers and rates of payable diagnoses from those doctors.” View "In Re: NFL Players' Concussion Injury Litigation" on Justia Law

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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