Sunday, February 17, 2019

NJ Supreme Court to decide whether defendant has a duty to warn about asbestos exposure due to a replacement part in its product

The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal that will decide a manufacturer’s liability for asbestos-containing replacement parts that it did not manufacture or sell.  The Supreme Court granted certification after the Superior Court, Appellate Division, held that a manufacturer has a duty to warn of risks not just from the products it manufactures or sells, but also from asbestos-containing replacement parts necessary for its products to function.  You can read the lower court opinion here.

Here is a link to a short article that summarizes the possible approaches to the question and the issues involved.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Article proposing changes to the view that suicide is a superseding cause

As you may know, courts often rule that a person's decision to commit suicide operates as a superseding cause which results in dismissing wrongful death claims against defendants whose conduct allegedly drove the decedent to commit suicide.

A few years ago, I commented how this approach to the issue has resulted in a confused state of the law in Illinois.  See here.    I have also argued that the analysis has never made much sense to me because, by definition, a superseding cause is superseding only if it is unforeseeable and suicide is not always unforeseeable. 

However, for some, the act of committing suicide is still so inconceivable that for them it should always be considered to be unforeseeable.  Perhaps this is based on the notion that life, however bad it might be, is always preferable to death, and therefore it is inconceivable that someone might prefer to die.  This categorical approach, however, fails to consider the many possible reasons and circumstances that might lead someone to consider suicide.

Thus I have argued that the analysis in suicide cases should be exactly the same as that in all other cases that involve intervening causes:  is the injury a foreseeable consequence of the risk created by the negligent conduct?  Two years ago, I reported on a case that agreed with my view.  See here.

I am writing about this today because I just saw a new article on the subject.  It is called  Abolishing the Suicide Rule, and here is the abstract:
Suicide is increasingly recognized as a public health issue. There are over 40,000 suicides a year in the U.S., making suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the country. But societal attitudes on the subject remain decidedly mixed. Suicide is often closely linked to mental illness, a condition that continues to involve stigma and often triggers irrational fears and misunderstanding. For many, suicide remains an immoral act that flies in the face of strongly held religious principles. In some ways, tort law’s treatment of suicide mirrors the conflicting societal views regarding suicide. Tort law has long been reluctant to permit recovery in a wrongful death action from a defendant who is alleged to have caused the suicide of the decedent. In many instances, courts apply a strict rule of causation in suicide cases that has actually been dubbed “the suicide rule” in one jurisdiction. While reluctance to assign liability to defendants whose actions are alleged to have resulted in suicide still remains the norm in negligence cases, there has been a slight trend among court decisions away from singling out suicide cases for special treatment and toward an analytical framework that more closely follows traditional tort law principles. This Article argues that this trend is to be encouraged and that it is time for courts to largely abandon the special rules that have developed in suicide cases that treat suicide as a superseding cause of a decedent’s death.
You can find the full article in SSRN, here.