Monday, October 22, 2018

Supreme Court hears oral argument in asbestos case under maritime law

A couple of weeks ago, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that raises basic principles of tort law as related to maritime jurisdiction.  The case involves equipment that depended on asbestos insulation sold by various manufacturers that was installed many years ago on Navy ships.  The plaintiffs are a group of sailors injured by the asbestos used with the equipment. Because the injuries in question occurred at sea it arises under the general “maritime” law, judge-made federal law for which the Supreme Court is the final authority. The lower court found that the manufacturers could be liable because the injuries were foreseeable. 

The SCotUS blog has analysis here.  You can also access all the relevant documents in the case here.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Interesting case in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding false imprisonment

Suppose a person is charged of and convicted of a crime he or she did not commit and is later exonerated.  Should that person have a claim for false imprisonment?  against whom?  and when would the statute of limitation begin to run? 

These are some of the issues addressed by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a recent decision in which it  reversed and remanded dismissal of a false-imprisonment claim against the city and county of El Paso holding that false imprisonment is a continuing tort in Texas.  The case was brought by a man who spent 17 years in prison for a sexual assault he did not commit.

You can read the opinion here.

Judge dismisses defamation suit against Trump

By now you have probably heard that a U.S. District Judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels against Donald Trump based on a “tweet” in which Trump suggested Daniels lied. 

The judge concluded that the tweet "constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole', and that because the tweet displays “an incredulous tone,” it was not meant to be understood as a “literal statement about the plaintiff."

You be the judge.  The statement in question is this:  "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!"

Does that sound to be a statement of fact, an opinion or a rhetorical hyperbole?  Do you think reasonable people would disagree about the answer to that question?

The judge also found that Daniels failed to show that Trump "acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth," which is ironic since Trump is famous for having reckless disregard for the truth.

NPR has more about the court's ruling here.  Politico has more here.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

California Supreme Court says defendants in products liability cases may use evidence of industry custom

Strict products liability was born in California and many states still look to California law for guidance on products liability law issues.  For that reason, it is worth noting that late last August, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Kim v. Toyota Motor Corporation in which it was asked to determine whether, in a strict products liability action, evidence that a product’s design conforms with industry custom and practice is relevant and admissible.  Several appellate decisions in California had previously had held that such evidence is categorically inadmissible, but the lower appellate court in Kim had taken a different approach, saying "it depends.”

In a 5-2 decision, the court acknowledged that evidence that a product was manufactured following the custom does not, by itself, prove that the product is not defective, but the court held that evidence of industry custom and practice may be relevant for other purposes, “including the jury’s evaluation of whether the product is as safely designed as it should be, considering the feasibility and cost of alternative designs.”  In other words, the court held that the evidence can be used together with other evidence as part of the analysis to determine whether the product is defective. 

This result is actually not that surprising and it follows the general approach developed by courts following the Restatement 2d's approach to products liability (as opposed to the one in the Restatement 3d, which is followed by a minority of jurisdictions.)

You can read the opinion here.

You can read more about the case here.