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?

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed into law SB0072 (the “Prejudgment Interest Act”), a revised version of the bill he had previously vetoed and that we discussed in a prior alert. The Prejudgment Interest Act will amend the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1303) to provide plaintiffs with prejudgment interest on certain damages awarded in Illinois personal injury and wrongful death cases.[1] While the new law dials back some of the controversial aspects of its predecessor bill – for example, the nine percent interest accruing when the defendant receives notice of the injury – the new law still increases the potential risk that companies face in defending personal injury and wrongful death suits. Unlike the earlier bill, however, the new law gives defendants an opportunity to reduce their risk through settlement offers.
Continue Reading UPDATE: Companies Defending Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Suits in Illinois Now Face Prejudgment Interest

A new bill sitting on Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk could change the calculus for defendants in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits by entitling plaintiffs to prejudgment interest both in future lawsuits and in lawsuits that have already been filed. The bill could make plaintiffs’ verdicts more costly for defendants while also inflating settlement amounts.

HB3360 passed both houses on January 13 and went to the governor on February 4 for signature. If the bill becomes law, it will amend the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1303) to provide plaintiffs with prejudgment interest on all damages awarded in personal injury and wrongful death cases in Illinois.[1] Previously, plaintiffs were entitled only to postjudgment interest in these cases. The bill entitles plaintiffs to collect prejudgment interest in negligence and strict liability, as well as in cases of willful or wanton or intentional misconduct.
Continue Reading Companies Defending Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Suits in Illinois Will Face Prejudgment Interest If New Bill Becomes Law

In Illinois, the collateral source rule bars defendants from submitting evidence that plaintiffs received compensation for their injuries from a collateral source. For example, if a plaintiff is injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligent actions, often the plaintiff’s insurance company will cover part of the plaintiff’s medical expenses even before the plaintiff files a lawsuit against the tortfeasor. In that example, the defense is prohibited from submitting evidence regarding that compensation. The purpose of this rule is to prevent defendants from reducing or eliminating the amount of damages they are liable for. On May 21, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court defined the outer limits of this rule in Mary Lewis, et al. v. Lead Industries Association, et al. (Atlantic Richfield Company, et al.),[1] holding that plaintiffs cannot use the collateral source rule to establish the injury element of a cause of action. The Lewis plaintiffs argued that the cost of the lead testing, which had been covered entirely by Medicaid, should be recoverable pursuant to the collateral source rule. The Court was unconvinced and ruled that pure economic loss claims in which a plaintiff cannot establish actual out-of-pocket expenses will fail and the collateral source rule will not provide the necessary support to overcome that hurdle in Illinois.
Continue Reading Lewis Court Rejects the Use of the Collateral Source Rule to Establish Injury-in-Fact

Many companies were caught off-guard in the spring when diagnoses of COVID-19 multiplied rapidly and forced businesses to close or drastically change their policies with little warning. Now companies that have reopened must prepare for the future. As we have seen in recent weeks, resurgences may occur at any time in different parts of the country. And epidemiologists have warned about a potential second wave of infections in the fall.
Continue Reading Reopening and Readjusting: Preparing for a Diagnosis or Resurgence in the Coming Months

In our last post, we discussed policy changes and new procedures that companies should consider as they reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly given the increase in cases in many parts of the country. But companies cannot change policies in a vacuum: they must clearly and effectively communicate these changes to employees, customers, and the public. Clear, written policies will be ineffective if they are not communicated effectively.
Continue Reading Reopening and Readjusting: Communicating COVID-19 Policies to All Stakeholders

Business closures have been immensely difficult for companies of all sizes during the COVID-19 pandemic. But reopening is proving difficult, too, especially given the ever-changing nature of the pandemic. As cases have surged in recent weeks in new parts of the country, businesses have been forced to reassess their operational plans in both the near- and long-term. Owners and executives are paying close attention both to customer and employee safety. And businesses must be mindful of potential legal ramifications of their decisions.
Continue Reading Reopening and Readjusting: What Businesses Should Be Thinking About

As COVID-19 lawsuits proliferate, businesses and their counsel should prepare for a battle of the experts on causation when there is no direct evidence that a plaintiff’s injury can be attributed to a certain source. As product liability lawyers know, plaintiffs typically must prove both general causation and specific causation in tort cases alleging exposure to a pathogen. General causation requires expert testimony to show that the exposure to something – here the novel coronavirus – can cause the type of injury – COVID-19 – that affected the plaintiff. Specific causation, however, requires something more. To prove specific causation, plaintiffs must be able to attribute their exposure or injury to a particular defendant.
Continue Reading Expert Strategies: Battling Causation in COVID-19 Tort Cases

On June 19, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California (BMS), an action brought in California state court that included some non-California plaintiffs alleging injuries not suffered in California. The Supreme Court – for the second time this term – narrowed where plaintiffs can constitutionally sue companies.

The decision already is impacting mass tort actions. On the same day as the BMS decision, a Missouri state court declared a mistrial in an action alleging that Johnson & Johnson’s talc products cause ovarian cancer.

BMS provides product liability defendants with an opportunity to argue that state courts do not have personal jurisdiction over them when the claims have no connection with the defendants’ activities in the forum state.
Continue Reading Checking Out of Hotel California: The U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Plaintiffs Cannot Sue Companies Anywhere They Do Business

On May 30, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell (BNSF), another case that defines the constitutional limits of general personal jurisdiction over companies.

The major issue in BNSF was whether a railroad company had a substantial enough presence in Montana for the Montana courts to assert general jurisdiction over the company. The Court’s decision also answered whether a federal law, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), conferred personal jurisdiction to state courts over railroad companies wherever they are “doing business.”
Continue Reading Safe Crossing: The U.S. Supreme Court Gets State Courts on Track with Daimler