Saturday, April 29, 2017

US Supreme Court denies cert in ignition switch defects case

Last year, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against General Motors' argument that it could not be liable for damages caused by ignition-switch defects because the products were made before it formed a new company following Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  For more information on the case go here and scroll down.  This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court and this week it was reported that the Court has refused to hear the appeal.  Now, the currently pending claims against GM will move forward. The claims have been estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $10 billion.

Is a dog a product?

The Abnormal Use blog is reporting on an interesting story about a lawsuit against a Humane Society pet shelter based on the fact that a dog adopted from the agency bit a 15-month old child. What is interesting is that the cause of action is based on product liability principles.  The case apparently argues that the agency failed to warn the Greenes of the risks of transitioning a dog from a shelter to a home and of a dog’s potential dangerous propensities. 

Although it might seem odd to think of a dog as a product at first - mostly because it is not "made" or "manufactured" - dogs are "things" when it comes to the law.  Most jurisdictions will not grant more than their market value in a claim against someone who kills a pet, for example.  Also, animals of all sorts are bought and sold in the market, and not all as pets.  For this reason, I would not be surprised if there are other cases that consider animals as products in the context of products liability, although I can't say I remember having seen any lately other than cases involving dead animals, aka food for humans.

Yet, I agree with Abnormal Use that there does not seem to be a need to use strict liability to support the claim.  A simple negligence claim for lack of proper warnings would be sufficient. 

If the claim were to be argued as a negligence claim for failure to warn, though, there is another interesting issue looming over the case:  whether the defendant should have warned the consumer that the dog was a pit bull mix.  This opens the door to the debate on whether knowledge that the dog was of a particular specific breed creates a duty to warn - something I have written about before many times.  The generally accepted view is against imposing such a duty, but there are cases that have recognized it and there is credible (at least to me) evidence that suggests the argument has some validity to it.

The case was just filed recently, and my guess is that like most cases it will be settled quietly.  But who knows, maybe it will work its way through the courts and bring up the issues to the forefront again.  We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

US Supreme Court agrees to hear case on the Alien Tort Statute to decide whether Corporations can be liable

It has been more than two years since I have posted anything related to the Alien Tort Statute because, well, with the 2013 US Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum the court pretty much made the statute irrelevant.  That case raised the issue of whether the statute could be used to support claims against corporations. However, in a surprising move, the Court asked the parties to brief a different issue (extraterritoriality), and eventually decided the case based only on that issue.  For all the background stories, go to the Alien Tort Statute section of the blog here.

In 2014, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided one case on the ATS holding that  holding that corporations, and not just state actors, can face liability for violations of universal norms under the Alien Tort Statute.  At the time, I thought that case would open the door for a renewed discussion of the issue, but the case did not reach the Supreme Court.

But now the wait is apparently over.  Just a few days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which the issue is precisely whether corporations can be liable under the Alien Tort Statute.  Stay tuned!

For more information and some links on the case (Jesner v. Arab Bank) go here.  For up to date coverage and access to all the documents related to the case go to the SCotUS blog here.