New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, issued its decision yesterday on the New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL) punitive damages/Case Management Order (CMO) issue. While the Appellate Court held that Judge Heitler had the authority to modify the CMO to lift the deferral on punitive damages, it also found that she exceeded that authority to the extent that the order directs applications for a jury charge on punitive damages to be made at the conclusion of the evidentiary phase of trial. As a result, the long-term viability of punitive damages in NYCAL cases is back in question.
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Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co. that defendants can remove cases to federal court under admiralty jurisdiction alone. The ruling may very well change the dynamics of mass tort filings in so-called “magnet jurisdictions” like Madison County and Cook County.

Junhong involved a group of Cook County cases from Asiana Airlines Flight 214. Two years ago, that Boeing 777 crashed into the seawall at San Francisco International Airport. The plane’s tail broke off, 49 persons suffered serious injuries, and three of the passengers died (the other 255 passengers and crew aboard suffered only minor or no injuries). Passengers sued Boeing in Illinois state court, alleging the plane’s systems were defective and contributed to the pilots’ errors. Boeing then removed the lawsuits to federal court, asserting two sources of jurisdiction: federal officer under § 1442 and general admiralty under § 1333.
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“Law lags science; it does not lead it.” Our legal system requires proof, and in many cases, only scientific evidence can provide it. With controversies swirling around about fraud and misconduct in scientific publications, how do product liability lawyers distinguish between credible scientific evidence and science that is, as Justice Scalia would say, “junky”?  Here are three ways to spot junk science before it trashes your case:
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In its June 30, 2015 opinion, Landra v. New Dominion, LLC, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that a personal injury tort action alleging that fracking-related activity caused an earthquake that then caused the plaintiff’s injuries can proceed in an Oklahoma district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court made no factual or legal findings with respect to the merits of the claims of causation, it simply held that the district court has jurisdiction to hear the suit based on the allegations made.

The Landra plaintiff is a resident of Prague, Oklahoma, and her lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for injuries allegedly proximately caused by the defendants wastewater disposal practices. The plaintiff claims that in November 2011 she was watching television in her living room when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck causing rock facing on the two-story fireplace and chimney to fall onto her causing injury to her knees and legs. She claims personal injury damages in excess of $75,000.
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Warning: That scientific article you just read may be completely bogus. Scientific articles can be retracted for numerous reasons – errors in data, errors in calculation, plagiarism, duplication of publication, and fraud or suspected fraud. An unmistakable trend in the increase of retractions due to one of those categories has emerged, and it is disturbing. A 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) article, “Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications,” found that the percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased dramatically in the last 40 years.  
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Noting that the result is preliminary and must be evaluated in clinical trials, Australian researchers working with the Asbestos Disease Research Institute published a case report announcing significant improvement for a pleural mesothelioma patient treated with microRNA therapy.  The results were reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
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The EPA released a draft of its study, U.S. EPA Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft), EPA, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015, assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water in early June (the draft Assessment). According to the EPA’s press release, the study finds that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but “identifies important vulnerabilities.” 
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Recent reports purport to link certain chemicals used in nail salon products to serious health problems such as cancer, asthma, respiratory disease, and miscarriages.  Though past efforts to impose stricter regulations on these chemicals have been largely unsuccessful, a recent slew of New York Times articles have drawn significant attention to the issue.  In response, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a number of emergency regulations to protect salon workers, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his own efforts to address the issue.  These responses could indicate a willingness on the part of lawmakers to revisit the laws regulating the cosmetics industry.
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The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in Spokeo v. Robins, a case that has the potential to redefine standing in federal court. The Ninth Circuit’s February 2014 decision permitted plaintiff Thomas Robins to establish standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) with nothing more than a speculative injury. This contravenes Supreme Court precedent, which finds standing when a plaintiff suffers a harm that is actual, distinct, palpable, and concrete; attenuated and hypothetical injuries do not constitute an injury-in-fact. The implications of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Spokeo v. Robins have grabbed the attention of companies in nearly every industry. Their concern, as expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – granting standing to plaintiffs who have not suffered an injury-in-fact will open the flood gates to no-injury class actions brought under statutes that authorize a private right of action. But, in truth, the implications to businesses could extend beyond this.
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The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Allen v. The Boeing Company may pave the way for removal of more mass tort claims to federal court. Allen held that an environmental mass tort occurring over many years is removable under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), finding the “local single event” rule did not apply.
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