Court Rulings/Decisions

Since prescription opioids were first introduced for pain treatment in the 1990s, the number of drug overdose deaths has quadrupled, and more than a half million Americans have died from an overdose involving an opioid.[1] The CDC has labeled this an epidemic, and most agree that it is a public health crisis. But courts are divided over whether this crisis is legally a public nuisance. As appellate courts issue decisions and trials across the country reach verdicts, the contours of tort law are being reshaped and defined — specifically the applicability of public nuisance in product liability and mass torts cases.
Continue Reading Trending in Tort Law Part II: Courts Address the Growing Use of Public Nuisance in Mass Torts

Amid the holiday cheer this year, you may have noticed longer shipping times and more items out of stock, even as you’ve ordered more online than in the past. Businesses and consumers alike have learned over the past 21 months that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to supply chain bottlenecks and hampered delivery times. Companies often have no control over these delays, but a recent $950,000 settlement between the State of California and Yeezy Apparel LLC/Yeezy LC (Yeezy) — an apparel and shoe company owned by Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) — highlights the need for businesses to plan ahead and remain vigilant when promising swift delivery of products. Most importantly, internet retailers must work with manufacturing and shipping partners and ensure that websites and confirmation emails accurately convey information. The Yeezy case provides a cautionary tale for businesses that may promise quick delivery of products that consumers purchase online.
Continue Reading Yeezy Settlement Highlights Potential Pitfalls of Shipping Delays Amid the Pandemic

Plaintiffs continue to file website accessibility lawsuits at a rapid pace, but two recent decisions in New York federal court may reduce certain types of filings in that forum.[1] In these cases, both out of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the courts held that websites are not “places of public of accommodation” covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and on that basis, granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss. The decisions cited a recent case from the Eleventh Circuit,[2] but more notably, disagreed with prior New York district court decisions that applied the ADA to websites even when those websites were not paired with a physical location (e.g., a brick-and-mortar store).[3] As we have highlighted, courts across the country have applied varying standards regarding whether the ADA applies to such standalone websites. Certain courts, most notably the Ninth Circuit,[4] require a physical nexus between the website and a physical retail location to invoke the ADA. To be sure, some jurisdictions still favor plaintiffs on this issue, but these two decisions could limit filings in district courts within the Second Circuit and may potentially signal broader changes regarding ADA website litigation.
Continue Reading Recent New York Federal Court Decisions Hold that the ADA Does Not Cover Websites

In March, the Supreme Court addressed the test for specific personal jurisdiction in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court.[1] The Court considered whether the test’s second prong — which requires that a plaintiff’s claims “arise out of or relate to” the defendant’s forum contacts — requires strict causation.

The Court rejected a strict causation requirement, but the analysis remains fact-intensive. The opinion appears to indicate that defendants may still be able to defeat the contention that the court has specific personal jurisdiction when their intended footprint is regional or their contacts are limited to certain persons or products. We review the Ford decision below and discuss how state courts in Illinois, Texas, and California have applied it.
Continue Reading Personal Jurisdiction: State Court Application of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court

Two cases decided 25 years apart, but there were some facts in common: a hot drink, a consumer alleging that she was burned by the drink, and a lawsuit. These are the facts of the 1994 case Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants that resulted in an award of millions to the consumer, but also the facts from Shih v. Starbucks, a case decided last year. In Shih, however, the court found in favor of the product supplier. What’s different about these cases? The answer: how the courts interpreted proximate cause.
Continue Reading The Hot Coffee Case Revisited: Has Proximate Cause Changed in the 25 Years Since Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants?

Plaintiffs are filing an increasing number of lawsuits against companies alleging that their websites violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the sites are not accessible to visually impaired customers. But these lawsuits assume an answer to an unresolved question: does Title III apply to websites? Title III applies to “places of public accommodation” and prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s disability. Yet neither the statute nor the accompanying regulations state that websites are places of public accommodation, leaving courts (or Congress) to determine whether websites are required to comply with Title III.
Continue Reading ADA Website Litigation: Eleventh Circuit Holds Website is Not Subject to Title III

U.S. companies have been inundated with lawsuits in the past several years alleging that their websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various state laws, including the California Unruh Act. Plaintiffs claim that the websites do not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium because visually impaired consumers allegedly cannot access the sites using screen-reader software. While it is difficult to determine with precision the number of cases that have been filed, they have increased 75 percent from just over 2,000 reported cases in 2018 to approximately 3,500 in 2020 – and the numbers are steadily rising. The cases target all manner of business across a wide range of industries.
Continue Reading ADA Website Litigation Continues to Proliferate in 2021

On February 2, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit weighed in on the “ascertainability” debate raging in the federal courts – specifically, whether plaintiffs must show that it would be “administratively feasible” to identify class members before the class can be certified. The term “ascertainability” is not in the text of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Some courts, however, view ascertainability as an implicit requirement of a properly defined class. Other courts take it a step further and embrace a “heightened ascertainability” standard – i.e., “administrative feasibility” – and deny certification when plaintiffs fail to prove that the process for identifying absent class members will be administratively feasible.
Continue Reading The Eleventh Circuit Joins the Majority in Rejecting a Heightened Ascertainability Requirement for Class Actions

Punitive damages can often multiply a defendant’s potential exposure in litigation. A recent California appellate court decision, however, may make it easier for defendants to obtain summary judgment for punitive damages claims before a jury may consider a possible award. In Morgan v. J-M Manufacturing Company, Inc.,[1] the court vacated a $15 million punitive damages award because there was insufficient evidence to support the award. In fact, the court emphasized that there was no evidence that any corporate officer, director, or managing agent authorized or ratified any wrongful conduct, which a plaintiff must show under California law for a jury to award punitive damages. The ruling could signal that courts are requiring more specific evidence showing corporate defendants authorized or ratified wrongdoing, which in turn could help defendants get punitive damages claims dismissed before trial or awards vacated on appeal.
Continue Reading California Appellate Court Vacates $15 Million Punitive Damages Award

Several state and federal courts have recently addressed a hot-button issue in product liability law: whether the manufacturer of a product that has an asbestos-containing replacement part that causes injury may be liable even if the manufacturer itself did not manufacture or supply the replacement part. Consider this example: a manufacturer produces a steam trap or boiler that contains an asbestos gasket that needs to be replaced from time to time. Third parties supply the replacement gaskets. Is the original product manufacturer liable for injuries allegedly caused by the asbestos-containing replacement gaskets?
Continue Reading Whelan v. Armstrong Int’l, Inc.: Latest Asbestos Ruling Expands Manufacturer Liability for Injuries