Businesses across the country are facing challenges, including lawsuits, as they grapple with how COVID-19 has impacted their operations, work forces, and supply chains. The wave of litigation is rising, and it appears that no industry is immune. Schiff Hardin’s Coronavirus Task Force is publishing this series to identify of-the-moment issues and potential liabilities facing businesses as they begin to re-open, transform their processes, and adapt to the new reality.

As businesses start to reopen across the country, customer-facing companies should consider best practices to reduce the risks of customer and employee exposure to the novel coronavirus, the cause of COVID-19. The right approach will differ based on the type of business, the state and local government guidelines and orders in place, and the geographic region in which the business operates. A hair salon in New York City, for example, will need to take different precautions than an outdoor nursery in Anchorage. Companies should develop a thoughtful plan to reduce the chance of exposure to the virus at a business given the ever-evolving scientific understanding of the disease. Here are five ideas that businesses can use to help ensure that their customers and employees remain safe.
Continue Reading Five Approaches to Keep Customers and Employees Safe When Reopening

It’s getting more complicated to take and defend depositions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now there is a proposed new change to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that would require parties to confer before a plaintiff takes the deposition of a corporate representative. Specifically, the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules has proposed an amendment to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6) that requires parties to confer in good faith before the deposition takes place about both the topics and the identity of the witness or witnesses.
Continue Reading What’s Ahead: An Amendment to Rule 30(b)(6) That Requires Parties to Confer

Civil litigation is a highly deadline-driven activity – statutes of limitation, discovery responses, notices of appeal. The “use it by a date certain or lose it” nature of all of these deadlines pushes the wheels of justice forward, steadily, if sometimes slowly. Over the past 48 hours, in response to the novel coronavirus, state and federal courts across the country have applied the brakes to the judicial system – canceling appellate arguments, postponing jury trials, and pushing out deadlines, sometimes potentially for months. In the short-term, the orders provide welcome relief for firms and clients coping with office closures and directives in many parts of the country to shelter in place. But the relief in many cases may be incomplete – in some instances, courts lack the power to relieve parties from jurisdictional deadlines. As illustrative examples, here we look at a series of orders, all effective March 17, 2020, from a federal court in Chicago, and from state courts in Illinois, California, and New York.
Continue Reading Blanket Deadline Extension Orders: Short-Term Relief and Jurisdictional Risks

Parties engaged in multidistrict litigation (MDL) face a crucial decision: which case or cases should be tried first? For both plaintiffs and defendants, bellwethers — the first trial or trials from the similar cases making up the MDL — can determine how the rest of the cases proceed. One current headlining case — the prescription opioid MDL pending before Judge Polster in federal district court in Ohio — shows both how hard it is to select bellwethers and why bellwethers matter.
Continue Reading Selecting Cases for Early Trials in Multidistrict Litigation: Which Way Will the Bellwethers Go?

Just over 50 years ago, Congress passed the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Act, with the intent to make it more efficient for parties to litigate factually similar but geographically dispersed complex cases. While the statute today is virtually unchanged from the original version, what has changed is the number of cases in MDLs. Ten years ago, MDLs represented only 15 percent of the civil caseload. By 2018, however, that number had more than tripled, and MDLs accounted for almost 47 percent of the total civil caseload in the United States.[1] Product liability MDLs alone make up almost 90 percent of pending MDLs.[2]

As the number of MDLs has grown, so has the focus on the MDL process and whether the process is working. One frequent criticism is that a significant percent – between 30-40 percent – of cases filed in any MDL turn out (often at the settlement stage) to be unsupportable.[3] Why is this the case? Likely in part because the MDL process does not have an effective mechanism to weed out non-meritorious cases early. This post addresses the meritless claim problem and analyzes some proposed solutions.
Continue Reading Meritless Claims Create Inefficiencies in Multidistrict Litigation

Product liability defendants often seek to remove cases to federal court. That’s because federal jurisdiction provides the federal pleading standards, robust expert discovery, efficiency through uniform procedural and evidentiary rules, and often more diverse jury pools. Sometimes defendants can use removal to leverage early case resolution.

But it’s not always clear when a defendant can remove to federal court because the rules vary among the circuit courts, the facts drive the decision, and the case law continues to develop.  This year several cases highlighted the evolving removal landscape and addressed four important questions.
Continue Reading 2017 Removal Roundup: How Can Defendants Get Into Federal Court?

Most holiday seasons, an “it” toy stands at the top of children’s wish lists. With this instant rise in popularity frequently comes a corresponding rise in consumer complaints. Years ago, the consumer complaints might get some media attention—but that attention usually focused on the consumer competition to acquire the demand-exceeds-supply product.

Now, people turn to social media to detail in words, pictures, and video any perceived problem with their much-hyped purchase. This contributes to a manufacturer’s nightmare, trying to quickly determine which complaints are just disappointed expectation and which might actually be a consumer safety issue. Can manufacturers likewise use social media to help calm the storm?
Continue Reading When Santa Brings a Dud

Calls for a government-led investigation of the potential negative health effects of crumb rubber turf are getting louder, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is listening. Crumb rubber turf infill consists of black pellets of ground-up rubber, and it’s become increasingly popular in the construction of sports fields. Some are concerned, however, that crumb rubber turf may expose athletes to cancer-causing chemicals.

On Wednesday, January 27, CPSC chairman Elliot F. Kaye, in statements to a Florida television station, indicated that CPSC will investigate the potential risks of rubber turf.


Continue Reading Government Turf: Will the CPSC Investigate Rubber Infill?

The cannabis industry is taking a hit.  The nation’s first cannabis product liability lawsuit was filed in Colorado and challenges the cannabis industry’s production process.

Flores v. LivWell Inc., was filed by two marijuana users alleging that the fungicide Eagle 20 was intentionally applied to thousands of marijuana plants at a Denver facility. Plaintiffs Brandan Flores and Brandie Larrabee are seeking class-action status contending that LivWell Inc. (LivWell), one of the largest cannabis growers in the state of Colorado, sold marijuana sprayed with Eagle 20 to medical and recreational customers without adequately warning consumers of the risks associated with Eagle 20. Neither plaintiff alleges they were sickened from ingesting marijuana they purchased at LivWell.
Continue Reading Growing Concerns: Marijuana Industry Hit with Its First Ever Product Liability Lawsuit

Less than 1% of the population suffers from the serious gluten allergy known as celiac disease. Yet every time this writer goes out to dinner at least one dining companion passes on bread and pasta, claiming a self-diagnosed “gluten sensitivity” that manifests as a collection of nondescript symptoms, the major one being “fatigue.” The odd thing is that our obsession with gluten – present in a staple food for millennia – has only recently become the bad actor in all sorts of physical and mental maladies in celiac-free individuals.
Continue Reading Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS): Fad Allergy, Debilitating Disease, or What?