Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Products Liability
Ex parte Hankook Tire America Corporation PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
In this case before the Supreme Court of Alabama, the plaintiffs were the children of Robert Crum Jr., who was killed when the concrete truck he was driving overturned due to a tire failure. The tire was a 10-year-old Hankook AH10 tire, and the plaintiffs sued the companies that allegedly designed, manufactured, and distributed the tire, Hankook Tire America Corporation and Hankook Tire & Technology Co., Ltd. ("Hankook"). The plaintiffs alleged that the tire was defective and caused the accident. They sought to depose Hankook's designated corporate representative, Won Yong Choi, and claimed that he provided evasive answers or did not answer at all. They also alleged that Hankook's attorney consistently interrupted the deposition, objected to questions, and instructed Choi not to answer. As a result, the plaintiffs moved the trial court to impose sanctions against Hankook.The trial court granted the motion and imposed sanctions that included prohibiting Hankook from having any corporate representative give testimony at trial that went beyond Choi's deposition testimony, barring Hankook from disputing at trial that the failed tire was defective, and striking 10 of Hankook's affirmative defenses. The trial court also ordered the plaintiffs to submit evidence of the attorneys' fees and costs they had incurred in preparing for and taking Choi's deposition. After they did so, the trial court entered an order awarding the plaintiffs $66,550 in attorneys' fees.Hankook petitioned the Supreme Court of Alabama for a writ of mandamus, asking the court to direct the trial court to vacate the sanctions order and the fee order. The Supreme Court of Alabama granted the petition, holding that the sanctions imposed by the trial court were not authorized by Rule 37(d) because Choi did not fail to appear for the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. Therefore, the court directed the trial court to vacate both its initial order sanctioning Hankook and its later order imposing a monetary sanction. View "Ex parte Hankook Tire America Corporation PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS" on Justia Law
Blackburn v. Shire U.S., Inc., et al.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified a question of law to the Alabama Supreme Court. Dr. Dino Ferrante, a gastroenterologist, prescribed LIALDA, which is manufactured by Shire U.S., Inc., and Shire, LLC (referred to collectively as "Shire"), to help patient Mark Blackburn with his Crohn's disease. "LIALDA is the brand name for Shire's mesalamine drug, which is an anti-inflammatory drug specifically aimed at the gut. LIALDA is not approved by the FDA to treat Crohn's, but it is approved to treat ulcerative colitis, Crohn's 'sister' disease." After taking LIALDA for between 12 to 16 months, Blackburn discovered that he had developed kidney disease, specifically advanced chronic interstitial nephritis, which had resulted in irreversible scarring and had diminished his kidney function to 20% of normal capacity. As a result, Blackburn is awaiting a kidney transplant. The federal appellate court asked: (1) consistent with the learned intermediary doctrine, may a pharmaceutical company's duty to warn include a duty to provide instructions about how to mitigate warned-of risks?; and (2) might a plaintiff establish that a failure to warn caused his injuries by showing that his doctor would have adopted a different course of testing or mitigation, even though he would have prescribed the same drug? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "Blackburn v. Shire U.S., Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Smith v. NIBCO, Inc.
Martha and Kevin Smith purchased and lived in a house that had a plumbing system composed of polyethylene ("PEX") tubing manufactured by NIBCO, Inc. The PEX tubing failed, which allowed water to leak into the house, allegedly causing damage. The Smiths subsequently commenced a lawsuit in against NIBCO, among others, asserting various theories of liability. Ultimately, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of NIBCO and certified the judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. App. P. The Smiths appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the Smiths' claims against NIBCO, the judgment on which was certified as final under Rule 54(b), and the Smiths' claims against D.R. Horton and Dupree Plumbing that remained pending in the circuit court were so closely intertwined that separate adjudication of those claims would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court exceeded its discretion in certifying the September 20, 2021, order granting NIBCO's summary-judgment motion as final. The Supreme Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Smith v. NIBCO, Inc." on Justia Law
Lang v. Cabela’s Wholesale, LLC.
Larry Lang appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Cabela's Wholesale, LLC ("Cabela's"), in his product-liability action against Cabela's based on the alleged failure of a hunting tree stand. On November 29, 2016, Lang was starting to climb down the ladder of a hunting tree stand. A telescoping mechanism in the ladder failed, and Lang fell to the ground and was severely injured. As a result, he had limited ability to walk, incurred significant medical bills, and incurred expenses to modify his home. The Alabama Supreme Court found that under the clear language of 6-5-521(b)-(d), Ala. Code 1975, commonly known as the innocent-seller act, Cabela's was not entitled to a summary judgment on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the seller of the tree stand. Cabela's was entitled to a summary judgment, however, on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the designer and manufacturer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Lang v. Cabela's Wholesale, LLC." on Justia Law
Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC.
Law firm Petway Olsen, LLC, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to set aside its order granting the motion filed by Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), seeking to disqualify the firm from representing the plaintiffs in the underlying case and to enter an order allowing the firm to represent the plaintiffs. In 2017, Valisha Cartwell was driving a 1998 Mercedes ML320. As she was pulling into a parking space in front a dental office operated by Vital Smiles Alabama, P.C., the vehicle suddenly accelerated and crashed into the front of the dental office, killing a six-year-old child and injuring others. Grelinda Lee, as personal representative of the child's estate, sued Cartwell and the owner of the Mercedes ML320 (and other fictitiously named defendants) for wrongful death. An amended complaint added Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. The second amended complaint was signed by D. Bruce Petway of Petway Olsen and included the names of other attorneys with different law firms who were also representing the plaintiffs. Both Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI") and MBUSA asserted as a defense that Petway Olsen was "disqualified [from representing the plaintiffs] because one of its members [was] a former in-house attorney and general counsel for MBUSI." After review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it granted MBUSA's motion to disqualify Petway Olsen from representing the plaintiffs. The petition for mandamus relief was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its previous order granting MBUSA's motion. View "Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC." on Justia Law
Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.
In 2015, Elizabeth Byars was visiting a residence in Huntsville, Alabama owned by Hannelore Sims ("Hannelore") when she was attacked by a pit bull kept by Hannelore's adult grandson Cody Sims ("Cody"), who also resided at the property. The pit bull was allegedly owned by Belinda Jones (whose relationship to Cody and Hannelore was not made clear from the trial court record). Byars sued Hannelore, Cody, and Jones seeking to recover damages for her injuries. Cody was served with notice of Byars's lawsuit, but he failed to answer the complaint. The trial court entered a default judgment against Cody, awarding Byars $200,000. Byars thereafter amended her complaint to assert a claim against State Farm. Specifically, Byars alleged that State Farm had issued a homeowner's insurance policy insuring Hannelore's property and that, because a judgment had been entered against Cody, Byars could assert a claim against State Farm under the direct-action statute. State Farm moved to dismiss, arguing that the direct- action statute did not allow Byars to simply amend her complaint to add State Farm as a defendant. Rather, State Farm argued, Byars was required to initiate a separate action to pursue any claim she might have against State Farm. State Farm petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief when the trial court denied its motion. In denying State Farm's petition, the Supreme Court determined State Farm failed to meet its burden or establishing that it had no adequate remedy aside from a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Ex parte Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC.
Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC ("Road Gear"), a corporation based in Franklin County, petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the underlying action to the Franklin Circuit Court and to enter an order transferring the action. Road Gear manufactures trucking equipment, including "cab guards" designed to prevent passengers in tractor-trailer trucks from being injured by shifting loads. Vernon Dement was operating a tractor trailer pulling a load of logs in Madison County, Alabama. While traveling, Dement's truck over turned on a curve in the road. The cargo crashed into the passenger compartment, crushing Dement to death inside the vehicle, and injuring his wife Deborah Dement, who was a passenger in the truck. Deborah filed suit in Marshall County on behalf of herself and in her capacity as the personal representative and administrator of the estate of her husband against Road Gear and fictitiously named defendants. Dement alleged that her injuries and the death of her husband were caused by Road Gear's negligence and wantonness and that Road Gear was liable under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("the AEMLD"). Dement alleged in her complaint that venue was proper in Marshall County because she resided in Marshall County and Road Gear "does business in Marshall County." The Alabama Supreme Court determined FleetPride was Road Gear's "agent" in Marshall County for purposes of determining venue, and that Road Gear failed to show that it did not regularly do business in Marshall County at the time the suit was filed. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Road Gear's motion to transfer the action to Franklin County. View "Ex parte Road Gear Truck Equipment, LLC." on Justia Law
Forest Laboratories, LLC v. Feheley, Sr.
Forest Laboratories, LLC ("Forest"), filed a permissive appeal pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., of an Alabama circuit court's order denying it summary judgment. Forest manufactured and marketed Lexapro, a drug prescribed for depression, and Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. ("FPI") sold and distributed Lexapro. In 2015, Elias Joubran's physician prescribed Lexapro for Elias's depression. Elias's prescription was filled with generic escitalopram that was manufactured and sold by a company other than Forest. On December 30, 2015, Elias entered the house belonging to him and his wife, Sheila Joubran; he shot and killed Sheila, then shot and killed himself. Kevin Feheley, Sr., serving as personal representative of Shiela's estate, sued Mary Jourbran in her capacity as the personal representative of Elias's estate. Forest, FPI and several fictitiously named defendants were included in the suit. The complaint alleged that, at the time of the murder/suicide, Elias was under prescription for pharmaceuticals manufactured by defendants, including Forest and FPI, and that "Forest's Lexapro enhanced, enabled and aggravated [Elias's] depression and violent behaviors." The Alabama Legislature enacted section 6-5-530, Ala. Code 1975, "on the heels" of the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Wyeth, Inc. v. Weeks, 159 So. 3d 649 (2014). In addressing the Weeks decision, section 6-5-530 specifically provided that a plaintiff who is suing based on personal injury, death, or property damage caused by a product "must prove ... that the defendant designed, manufactured, sold, or leased the particular product the use of which is alleged to have caused the injury on which the claim is based" regardless of the type of claims or theory of liability the plaintiff asserts. Because this case was a permissive appeal, the questions before the Supreme Court were limited to whether 6-5-530 effectively overruled Weeks, and whether a manufacturer could be held liable for an injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. The Court determined Section 6-5-530 abrogated Weeks: a pharmaceutical manufacturer cannot be held liable for injury caused by a product it did not manufacture. Based on the Court's answer to the trial court's certified question in the permissive appeal, it reversed the trial court's order denying Forest's motion for a summary judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Forest Laboratories, LLC v. Feheley, Sr." on Justia Law
Alabama v. Volkswagen AG
The State appealed a circuit court order that, among other things, dismissed its claims against Volkswagen AG ("VWAG"). The State had filed a complaint claiming VWAG and other defendants, violated the Alabama Environmental Management Act ("the AEMA"), and the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971 ("the AAPCA") when cars VWAG produced had "defeat devices" installed, designed to alter emissions readings on cars with diesel engines. In other words, the complaint alleged defendants had tampered with the emission-control systems or ordered third parties to tamper with the emission-control systems of vehicles that were licensed and registered in the State of Alabama. Giving its reasons for dismissal, the Supreme Court determined that given the unique factual situation involved in this case, and based on reasoning set by the multi-district litigation court, allowing the State to proceed would "stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Therefore, the trial court properly granted VWAG's motion to dismiss. View "Alabama v. Volkswagen AG" on Justia Law
Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Buffi’s Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc.
Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. ("Hartung"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc. ("Buffi's Automotive"). Wayne Hartung bought a piece of commercial property that had an auto-body collision, repair, and paint shop ("the body shop") on the premises. Wayne also formed Har-Mar Collisions, Inc. ("Har-Mar") to operate the body shop. Hartung subsequently entered into a lease with Har-Mar pursuant to which Har-Mar leased the body shop. Wayne had a custom-built paint booth installed in the body shop and hired Buffi's Automotive to make the paint booth operational once it was installed. On January 24, 2011, the body shop was completely destroyed by a fire. On July 8, 2011, Hartung sued Har-Mar, Buffi's Automotive, and several fictitiously named defendants in the circuit court asserting claims of negligence and wantonness related to their alleged roles in causing the fire that destroyed the body shop. Buffi's Automotive alleged that, sometime after the fire destroyed the body shop, Hartung ordered what remained of the body shop and all the equipment inside it to be demolished. Buffi's Automotive argued that Hartung allowed the body shop to be demolished even though it believed at that time that Buffi's Automotive had caused the fire; that Buffi's Automotive "was named as a defendant only after the evidence was destroyed"; and that Buffi's Automotive "should have been placed on notice of the claim and allowed to inspect the premises with its own experts prior to destruction of the evidence." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court could not properly conclude that the sanction of dismissal, as opposed to some lesser sanction, was mandated in the present case. “[B]ased on the record before us at this time, we are simply not convinced that Buffi's Automotive met its burden in this case.” Accordingly, summary judgment was reversed. View "Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc." on Justia Law