Articles Posted in Dangerous or Defective Products

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empire hotelIn Iacono v. Stanley Black & Decker, a Texas product liability plaintiff appealed from a summary judgment motion brought by the defendant manufacturer. The case arose from injuries sustained in connection with the defendants’ automatic sliding glass doors at a hotel. The doors operate by using a controller. Three sensors located above and on each side of the door detect motion in order for the doors to open. A threshold sensor is located in the frame above the door. The latest date of installation of the doors in this case was early 1995. The hotel’s safety assurance manager testified that the hotel performed the service for the doors once they were installed, and they had been serviced twice since 1995, with replacement of certain parts.

The plaintiff went to a wedding at the hotel in 2013. As she came out with her walker, the automatic door closed on her. She fell and was injured. She sued the manufacturer on the grounds of negligence, product liability, breach of warranty, and gross negligence. The manufacturer claimed that the plaintiff’s suit was barred by the statute of limitations and the statute of repose, and it moved for partial summary judgment.

The plaintiff filed an amended complaint and summary judgment response. She argued that her negligence claims were based on the manufacturer’s acts and omissions in service call years, so they weren’t barred by the statute of repose. She also claimed her negligence cause of action wasn’t barred by the statute of limitations. However, the trial court granted the partial summary judgment motion. The manufacturer then filed a final summary judgment motion, arguing that all that was left were product liability claims based on the motion sensors, which were manufactured by a separate company, and that since it was a non-manufacturing seller, it could not be liable. This motion also was granted.

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WEDGWOOD FIRE UPDATE

It is now understood that the fire loss that occurred at Wedgwood Apartments on December 28, 2014, will go down in history as one of 20 worst high-rise fire tragedies in U.S. History.

We now also understand that the extent of the injuries and death at Wedgwood could have been avoided, if specific and somewhat relatively basic precautions would have been made, by management or the owners of Wedgwood.

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In re Zimmer, Inc., a recent Texas appellate decision, considered a product liability lawsuit brought by a plaintiff. The plaintiff argued he was hurt because of the Zimmer Periarticular Distal Medial Tibial Locking Plate, a metal plate used to provide internal stabilization when a patient has serious fractures in his or her lower leg. The plaintiff argued the metal plate had design defects. The plate was first placed in the plaintiff’s leg after a motorcycle accident. It failed within about a year. A second plate was implanted and also failed within about a year. The plaintiff sued the manufacturer, claiming he was permanently disabled because the two implants had failed.

The jury was selected after jurors answered a written questionnaire that asked if jurors had ever had a serious physical injury. The defense attorney also questioned the jury about the experience their family members might have had with injuries. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant challenged a juror for cause based on an answer related to injuries. One juror who was seated had responded “none” to the question about physical injuries.

The jury found for the defendant Zimmer. The juror who had responded “none” had voted for the defendant. The plaintiff moved for a new trial, claiming misconduct by the jury and arguing that the verdict went against the weight of the evidence. He submitted affidavits from the jurors who dissented. These detailed incidents of alleged juror misconduct. Zimmer responded but didn’t offer counter affidavits.

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national-day-1394375-m.jpgFireworks are a long-standing tradition on July 4th. However, they can also be highly dangerous, especially if not handled appropriately. Recently, tragedy hit the Comanche area when one person was killed and four others injured in a fireworks accident.

The accident occurred when Kiwanis Club members were preparing fireworks for the 4th of July celebration the morning beforehand, on a baseball field near a high school. A trailer holding most of the fireworks suddenly exploded. The cause is not yet clear. One person was confirmed dead and the other four were rushed to the burn unit of Comanche County Medical Center, with injuries ranging from first to third-degree burns, mostly on their hands. All 4th of July activities were canceled as a result. This would have been the 24th year that the fireworks were held, and the event usually drew as many as 15,000 people.

There is no evidence as to whether the fireworks had been mishandled before they were placed in the van, or whether they were simply defective. However, this is just the latest in a series of serious accidents caused by fireworks. In 2011 alone, they caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires, including 1,200 structure fires, 400 vehicle fires, and 16,300 outside fires. These fires led to eight deaths, 40 injuries, and $32 million in property damage. In 2012, an estimated 8,700 people went to emergency rooms across the country due to fireworks-related injuries. Of these injuries, more than 55 percent were to extremities and 31 percent were to the head. The risk was highest for those between the ages of 15 and 24, followed by children under the age of 10.

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japanes-car-826481-m.jpgIt appears as though General Motors is not the only major automaker to order recalls of thousands of its automobiles. Now Japanese automakers Mazda, Honda, and Nissan have ordered recalls as well. Between the three, more than three million vehicles were slated to be recalled, due to faulty airbags supplied by Takata Corporation, a parts manufacturer.

The recalls specifically targeted vehicles that were sold in states with high absolute humidity in the southern United States, including Texas. The reason was because the front air bag inflators contained a defect that could cause them to explode. If air bags deploy with too much pressure, they can rupture, resulting in a failure to protect the vehicle occupants from injury.

The three automakers decided to order recalls after receiving information about the issue from Takata Corporation. This recall supplements one that was enacted in 2013, which affected as many as six million vehicles, including those manufactured by Mazda, Honda, and Nissan. For the current recall, Honda estimates that more than two million vehicles sold in the United States are affected. Nissan and Mazda have previously recalled 750,000 and 160,000 vehicles respectively.

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boxes-9315-m.jpgThe Texas Court of Appeals of the First District recently affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment motion against a plaintiff injured by an air compressor box at Lowe’s.

In Carpenter v. Campbell Hausfeld Company, Dwayne Carpenter was shopping for an air compressor at a nearby Lowe’s store in 2009. He tried to load a 1.2 HP 20-Gallon 125 PSI Electric Air Compressor, manufactured by Campbell Hausfeld, into his cart when the strap surrounding the compressor box suddenly broke. The box fell on Carpenter and sent him to the floor, causing him to injure his leg, left hip, arm, and shoulder.

Afterward, Carpenter filed a strict product liability lawsuit against the air compressor’s manufacturer, claiming that the strap was designed defectively, which made the air compressor unreasonably dangerous. In turn, Campbell Hausfeld filed for summary judgment, claiming that Carpenter had provided no evidence to support his lawsuit. Campbell Hausfeld put forth the elements of strict products liability, followed by the elements of a claim premised on a design defect and the statutory requirements for proving a “safer alternative design.” The manufacturer argued that Carpenter not only did not produce evidence of a product defect, but it also failed to produce evidence of a safer alternative design. Campbell Hausfeld argued further that Carpenter failed to argue that its actions were the cause of his injuries, or provide evidence of any damages.

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pick-up-744336-m.jpgGeneral Motors has come under the spotlight due to its recall of 13.8 million vehicles in the United States, including those sold in Texas. This has included the most recent recall of 500 new pickup trucks and SUVs due to an airbag malfunction and 2.6 million vehicles due to a faulty ignition that has led to 13 deaths.

The most recent calamity to hit GM was the faulty ignition defect. The defect led to a situation where key rings holding more than one key could cause the ignition to switch to the accessory position or the off position. That could lead to the loss of power, including power steering and breaking, as well as preventing airbags from deploying in the event of a front-impact crash.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM was aware of the defect prior to 2014, but chose to do something about it only this year. The agency criticized GM for waiting so long, noting that the families and friends of those killed as a result “deserve straight answers about what happened.” In response, GM claims that it has launched a new unit that will quickly uncover any safety defects and issue recall notices for the applicable vehicles. For delaying the recall of vehicles with ignition problems, GM will pay a fine to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of $35 million. That is unlikely to be the last time GM issues a payout, given that many families of those killed will probably file wrongful death lawsuits. Some believe that the lawsuits against GM could force the company to pay out as much as $10 billion.

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rollator-908029-m.jpgA Texas military veteran recently brought a lawsuit against a medical device company after the plate in his leg broke for the second time. Sergeant Don Gustafson, a veteran of the Marine Corp and Navy Reserve, sued Zimmer, Inc. in state court in Collin County, claiming that the medical device company created an unsafe product and lied about it. Zimmer, Inc. sells devices ranging from knee to hip devices and generates earnings of $4 billion per year worldwide.

The situation began back in 2007, when Gustafson broke both bones in his lower leg in a motorcycle accident. He had a plate installed to stabilize the leg that was manufactured by Zimmer, Inc. Sometime later, the plate broke and Gustafson was forced to have a new one installed. He contacted the company to let them know what happened, and was allegedly told that there was nothing wrong with the product. Gustafson believed the company’s claims, and so he had the same type of plate installed in his leg. One year later, after suffering pain in that location, Gustafson had an X-ray, which showed that that plate was broken as well.

Gustafson claims that as a result of the plate being broken, he suffered so much damage in his lower leg, his doctors discussed amputating it prior to his third surgery. His complaint came to the attention of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires that companies like Zimmer, Inc. report every device failure within 30 days of it taking place. Gustafson claims that Zimmer, Inc. was not reporting every device failure. Instead, the company allegedly sometimes waited months to report a problem (like Gustafson’s), and its employees operated under the belief that they did not need to report every problem, just the ones reported to them by a physician.

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627394_25078691.jpgAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of October 17, 2013, a total of 338 individuals from 20 states and Puerto Rico have been infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farm’s Chicken. Forty percent of those infected have been hospitalized, with approximately 75 percent of the victims residing in California. Nine ill persons have been identified in Texas. Salmonella Heidelberg is the country’s third most common strain of Salmonella, which can result in foodborne illness if not destroyed by proper cooking and safe handling. Notably, this is not the first time in recent months that the CDC has reported an outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. In July 2013, the CDC reported that 134 individuals had been infected with the same strain also linked to Foster Farm’s chicken.

Earlier this month, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) issued a public health alert due to concerns that illness caused by Salmonella Heidelberg was associated with chicken products produced at three Foster Farm’s facilities in California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) thereafter threatened to shut down these facilities, citing a risk to public health. While Foster Farms has not initiated a recall, the company is complying with the USDA’s requests to mitigate issues at the facilities tied to the outbreak. The investigation by the USDA-FSIS is ongoing.

How to know if you’ve been infected

The symptoms of the illness caused by Salmonella include high fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. While most of all persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps (usually within 12 to 72 hours after infection) that require little medical treatment, if any, some elderly individuals, infants, and those with impaired immune systems can suffer severe illnesses or death. The outbreak strains involved in these cases are resistant to several commonly described antibiotics, which means there may be an increased risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

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herbal-163891_1280.jpgA 48-year old mother of seven recently passed away after taking the dietary supplement, OxyElite Pro, for several weeks. In fact, over the past 6 months, OxyElite Pro has been linked to 24 reported cases of acute hepatitis and liver failure in Hawaii. As a result, on October 10, 2013, the Hawaii Department of Health issued a request that OxyElite Pro be voluntarily removed from stores across Hawaii. That same day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requested the product be removed from stores. According to the CDC, the most commonly reported symptoms reported include loss of appetite, fever, nausea, light-colored stools, dark urine, and jaundice.

Shortly after the Hawaii Department of Health’s request, USP Labs, LLC, the manufacturer of OxyElite Pro products based in Dallas, Texas, reported that it would cease the nationwide manufacturer and distribution of the products associated with liver failure cases. Unfortunately, that does not mean the product, meant to increase energy, concentration, and metabolism, will be pulled from shelves nationwide. Rather, it is up to the retailers who purchased the products from USP Labs whether to pull the products from the shelves.

This is not USP Labs and OxyElite Pro’s first warning from the government. In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned companies, including USP Labs, to stop using the geranium extract known as DMAA after it was linked to cases of increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, chest tightening, cardiovascular problems and even heart attacks. More specifically, the FDA concluded that DMAA is not a dietary ingredient and, as such, is not eligible to be used as an active ingredient in a dietary supplement. In early 2013, USP Labs agreed to settle a DMAA class action lawsuit for $2 million. Then in April 2013, USP Labs agreed to phase out products containing DMAA.

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