Articles Posted in Products Liability

Washington, D.C. product liability cases often require expert testimony concerning the connection between the defective product and the resulting injuries. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court for the District of Columbia, decided in 2016 that District of Columbia courts would apply the Daubert standard embodied in Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence to determine the admission of expert testimony in civil and criminal cases.

Under Rule 702, a witness is qualified as an expert if:

  1. The expert’s specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence in the case or to determine a fact in issue;
  2. The expert’s testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; the testimony is based on reliable principles and methods; and
  3. The expert has “reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.”

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals determined this rule is broad enough to permit testimony “that is the product of competing principles or methods in the same field of expertise.”

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Popular fast-food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill recently agreed to pay $25,000,000 to resolve criminal charges they faced for serving tainted food to consumers. According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors charged Chipotle with two counts of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by serving food from 2015 to 2018 that made over 1,000 people across the United States, including Washington, D.C., sick. In addition to the fine—the largest ever imposed in a food safety case—Chipotle has also agreed to adhere to a new food safety program, to avoid incidents like this in the future.

In the agreement, Chipotle admitted to being connected to several foodborne illness outbreaks, including several outbreaks of norovirus. Norovirus, which spreads easily, is associated with stomach upsets, vomiting, and nausea. It is said that these outbreaks were largely due to Chipotle employees not following food safety protocols. Additionally, Chipotle employees acknowledged feeling pressure to come to work even when sick, which contributed to the spread of illness to others.

This case highlights the importance of food providers and restaurants taking great care when preparing food. Federal prosecutors take credit for holding Chipotle responsible for the illnesses they caused and have promised to continue to actively enforce food safety laws to protect the public health. Food safety advocates hope that the case will set an example for others in the industry, reminding them to review and improve their own food safety policies and ensure they are being followed.

When someone is injured using a product in Washington, D.C., they may assume that it was their fault, and they have no course of action against anyone else. This is especially true if they have used the machine before, or if no one else was around when they were injured. Often, those injured in these scenarios will blame themselves. However, these instances may be suitable for a product liability lawsuit. Washington, D.C. law allows individuals injured while using a dangerous or defective product to sue the product’s manufacturer. If successful, these suits may allow injured victims to recover for lost wages, pain and suffering, and past and future medical expenses.

However, potential plaintiffs need to understand how complicated these cases may be. It is usually not enough to show that you were injured while using the product. Typically, the plaintiff must prove several other elements to hold a manufacturer liable. The exact requirements depend on what type of products liability claim the plaintiff is making, but one important one that comes up often is having to prove that the product was defective or dangerous at the time that it was sold.

Recently, a federal appellate court considered a case that hinged on this requirement. According to the court’s written opinion, the product in question was a tube-end forming machine. The user would load tube into the machine, and then press a foot pedal to activate the hydraulic press, which brought clamps around the tube and shaped the end of the tube. The machine at issue was sold originally by the manufacturer in 1992 but passed along to several companies before being sold to the plaintiff’s employer in 2014. When sold in 1992, there was a finger guard to prevent a user’s fingers from being crushed by the machine, but the original guard was lost over the years and replaced with a new guard that only worked for a certain size of tube.

Product liability cases allow a successful plaintiff to recover compensation for injuries suffered as a result of a defective product and to hold companies liable for their role in causing or allowing the defect to occur. A Washington, D.C. products liability case generally requires that a plaintiff prove that a product was defective when it left the defendant’s control, that there was no substantial change in the product’s condition before it reached the consumer, that the product was unreasonably dangerous, and that the product’s defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

A product that carries a potential danger must adequately warn consumers of the risk and instruct consumers on the proper use of the product. Warnings and instructions about the appropriate use must be clear, direct, and easy to understand. Under some theories of recovery, as long as the product was defective, a plaintiff may not be required to show that a defendant acted carelessly in creating the defect.

Formula Maker May Pose Health Risk to Infants

According to a recent news report, the Baby Brezza formula-making machine may pose a danger to infants. Evidently, a couple used the machine to mix formula for their baby, but after she began to lose weight, they discovered the cause of her weight loss was the Baby Brezza formula maker. The machine allegedly dispensed watery formula, which resulted in an insufficient amount of nutrients for the baby, according to the baby’s pediatrician. The baby began to gain weight again after the couple stopped using the device—but the experience was very upsetting for the parents. The couple filed two class-action lawsuits against the company, claiming the machine was defective.

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When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, the law allows them to file a civil suit against the responsible party to recover monetary damages for their injuries. Generally, this process requires proving four things. First, that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. Second, that the defendant breached that duty through some act or omission. Third, the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the defendant’s breach. Lastly, the plaintiff suffered actual damages. Failure to prove one of these elements can be fatal to a plaintiff’s claim. In Washington, D.C. personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs may bring in expert witnesses to help prove these elements; expert witnesses can help explain how an accident happened or the extent of the resulting injuries to the court.

While expert witnesses can be extremely helpful for plaintiffs, there are certain situations where expert witnesses can be used by the defense against the plaintiff. Defendants can also call expert witnesses who may provide testimony stating that a plaintiff’s claim is false. This can damage the plaintiff’s claim, sometimes even ending it altogether; if a defendant has a reliable expert witness and a plaintiff has none, the plaintiff might automatically lose.

Take, for example a recent state appellate case against Johnson & Johnson. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff used Johnson & Johnson talc-based products—specifically Shower to Shower and Baby Powder—regularly for years. In 2016, she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, and filed suit against Johnson & Johnson and their talc supplier, alleging that the company’s Shower to Shower and Baby Powder contained asbestos, causing her illness. In response, Johnson & Johnson produced the testimony of an expert witness, a geology Ph.D. specializing in characterizing asbestos in raw materials and the development of asbestos analytical methods. Based on his specialized knowledge and a review of various governmental and academic studies, the expert concluded that the talc sourced from the specific mines providing for the two products was asbestos-free.

Individuals in Washington, D.C. who use Johnson & Johnson baby powder might have been exposed to serious risks by using the company’s talc-based baby powder. The company, which produces a wide range of household products, is currently being sued by the state of New Mexico for misleading consumers about the safety of its baby powder and other talc-based products. If true, the allegations could have a serious impact on Washington, D.C. consumers who use the company’s products.

The lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson accuses them of concealing the dangers of their talc-based products, which allegedly contain carcinogenic asbestos. According to a major news report covering the suit, the products at issue have been associated with certain types of cancer and lung disease. The suit, brought by New Mexico’s Attorney General on behalf of the state, alleges that Johnson & Johnson is continuing to market these products to consumers, despite their dangers. This type of suit is what is commonly called a “failure to warn” case. All companies, regardless of size, are generally required by law to warn consumers about any potential dangers posed by their products. For example, a company producing hairdryers must include a warning about how the product can cause electric shock if dropped in water while turned on, and cigarette companies are required to include warnings about lung cancer on the boxes of their cartons.

Similarly, if talc-based products pose a danger to consumers, Johnson & Johnson has a legal duty to warn consumers of such. If instead of warning consumers, companies conceal information or fail to disclose it, they can be held liable under tort law. These lawsuits are typically high profile and can be very expensive, sometimes resulting in penalties of over one billion dollars.

Washington D.C. product liability lawsuits typically arise after someone is injured or killed because a product is defectively designed, manufactured, or lacks the appropriate warnings. Washington D.C. product liability laws encourage companies to act responsibly when releasing their products into the stream of commerce. Companies who fail to abide by safety regulations and rules may face liability for the injuries their product caused.

A product may be defective when it is capable of inflicting significant harm to a consumer. Washington D.C. injury victims may face difficulties establishing that a product is faulty, depending on the complexity and specific deficiency of the product. Design defect claims arise when the product is inherently dangerous based on its design. Manufacturing claims occur when the product has an appropriate design, but is defective because of a manufacturing error. Finally, defective warning claims arise when someone is injured because the product lacked adequate warnings. Product liability lawsuits are commonly brought based on defective pharmaceuticals, appliances, motor vehicles, toys, medical devices, and dangerous chemicals.

For example, recently, a national news report described a disastrous chemical explosion at a popular chain restaurant. A toxic mixture of cleaning agents led to the death of the restaurant’s general manager and the hospitalization of several patrons. The incident occurred after an employee mixed a bleach cleaner and detergent to clean the kitchen floor. The combination of the products resulted in lethal fumes. The cleanser is a popular restaurant and food service cleaning agent. The detergent’s information sheet indicates that it is not compatible with strong acids. However, an investigation into the incident and the product is still ongoing as the community copes with the tragic accident.

In some Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, there are complex issues beyond the understanding of the common juror. Typically, these issues involve the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and how they are traceable to the defendant’s conduct. In such cases, courts allow parties to call expert witnesses – often doctors – whose expertise can help the jury understand and contextualize the evidence.

Typically, when one party plans on calling an expert witness, the other side will also call an expert witness to offer a contrary position. This situation is referred to as the “battle of the experts,” because the outcome of the case may very well come down to which expert is more believable in the eyes of the jury. Thus, the decision of which expert to call is a critical determination that can make or break an accident victim’s case.

In a recent personal injury opinion released by a federal appellate court, the court discussed what a plaintiff must establish to present an expert witness. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in an on-the-job accident involving a machine used to crush automobiles and other large pieces of machinery. The plaintiff filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the crusher.

Products that are made for young children and marketed to parents are assumed to be safe. However, that is not always the case. Each year, hundreds of Washington, D.C. product liability lawsuits are filed based on dangerous or defective products; many of these products are designed for children.

In April, the toy giant Fisher-Price issued a recall of its popular baby sleeper, the Rock ‘n Play, after there had been more than 30 reports of babies dying while using the sleeper. According to an article by the Washington Post, the Rock ‘n Play was created in 2009 in response to the common concern for many parents that their babies would not sleep through the night.

Unlike cribs, bassinets, and other baby sleepers, the Rock ‘n Play allows babies to lie at a 30-degree angle, which was believed to help infants sleep longer. In fact, the company advertised that, “Baby can sleep at a comfortable incline all night long!” However, according to the Washington Post, Fisher-Price developed the sleeper without any clinical research, based on what have now come to be faulty beliefs about babies and how they sleep.

To successfully bring a Washington, D.C. personal injury case, a plaintiff must be able to prove not just that the defendant was negligent but also that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of their injuries. While the concept of causation may sound like a straightforward determination, in practice, the element can be exceedingly complex.

Causation can be broken down into two separate inquiries, the first being “but for” causation, or cause-in-fact. To satisfy the cause-in-fact element, the plaintiff must show that absent the defendant’s negligence, the accident would not have occurred. In most cases, cause-in-fact is not difficult to establish.

The second part of a causation inquiry is called proximate cause, or legal cause. Not only is proximate cause much more complicated, but it is also more challenging to prove. Proximate cause requires that a plaintiff prove that the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries are sufficiently related to say that the defendant’s actions were the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

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