Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label addiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Flawed instruction on 'reasonable alternative design' requires vacatur of tobacco defense judgment

Plaintiff's decedent started smoking in the early 1960s,
at age 13 or 14, with free samples of Kents.

(David Shay CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)
An error in jury instruction was small but crucial in a Massachusetts tobacco liability case, resulting in partial vacatur in the Appeals Court.

The plaintiff, decedent's representative, alleged design defect as cause of terminal lung cancer. The jury was instructed that the plaintiff had to prove the availability of a reasonable alternative design by the time the plaintiff was addicted.

That instruction described too tight a time frame, the court held. "[T]he jury should have been told to assess whether a reasonable alternative design existed at the time of distribution or sale."

The court explained:

If a manufacturer continues to make and sell a harmful and addictive product even though a safer alternative is available, the fact that the consumer is addicted to the product makes it more—not less—important for the manufacturer to adopt the available safer alternative. The purpose of anchoring liability to the point in time when the defective product is sold or distributed is to give manufacturers an incentive to create safer products [citing, inter alia, the Third Restatement of Torts].... Were we to adopt the defendants' view that liability should attach only up until the point in time a smoker becomes addicted to cigarettes, that incentive would be severely diminished, or even eliminated. Such a rule would in essence immunize cigarette manufacturers from liability to addicted persons even though they continue to sell or distribute defective products despite the availability of reasonable alternative designs. We see no reason to limit liability in this way, especially given the addictive nature of cigarettes, the speed with which smokers can become addicted to them, and the years—if not decades—thereafter during which a person continues to smoke and thus remains exposed to the dangers of cigarettes. In this regard, we note further that, as the expert testimony bore out, ... the degree or point of addiction to tobacco may be viewed as a continuum rather than a bright line. For this reason, it is all the more important that manufacturers be encouraged to produce safer, less addictive products at all points in time so as to increase the possibility that an addicted smoker be able to quit.

The court vacated the judgment in favor of defendants insofar as it arose from the erroneous instruction.

The case is Main v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 20-P-459 (Mass. App. Ct. Apr. 8, 2022). Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian wrote the opinion for a unanimous panel.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Court affirms widow's $21m verdict vs. Big Tobacco, upholds punitive damages despite '98 settlement

Marlboro Red Open Box by Sarah Johnson (CC BY 2.0)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed a $21m verdict against Philip Morris USA in favor of the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in 2016.

Fred R. Laramie started smoking in 1970, at age 13, when a store clerk gave him a free sample pack of Marlboros, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recounted.  He became a pack-a-day smoker and remained loyal to the brand, unable to quit despite trying, until his diagnosis and death in 2016.

Laramie's wife, Pamela, sued under the Massachusetts wrongful death statute.  She alleged that Marlboros were dangerously defective for their engineered addictive properties, an excess of the risk of smoking known to consumers and indicated on cigarette labels since 1969.  The jury in the Superior Court awarded Pamela Laramie $11m in compensatory damages and $10m in punitive damages.

The bulk of the high court's 37-page, unanimous opinion analyzes the inventive defense argument that the large punitive award is precluded by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of state claims against Big Tobacco.  As the court recalled in a footnote:

The [Big Tobacco] defendants agreed to pay approximately $240 billion to the settling States over twenty-five years, and to pay approximately $9 billion per year thereafter in perpetuity, subject to various adjustments. The agreement allocated approximately four percent of those payments to the Commonwealth. The defendants also agreed to restrict cigarette advertising and lobbying efforts, to permit public access to certain internal documents, and to fund youth education programs.

Punitive damages are not awarded in Massachusetts common law; they must be authorized by statute.  The wrongful death statute authorizes punitive damages when the defendant caused injury "by ... malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct ... or by ... gross negligence."

The plaintiff successfully relied on internal documents of Big Tobacco that demonstrate the artificial manipulation of the nicotine content in cigarettes.  In the 1990s, the revelation of such records marked the plaintiff breakthrough that precipitated the collapse of Big Tobacco's long-successful wall of defenses in product liability litigation.  The revelation represented, more or less, the information at issue in the case of whistleblower-scientist Jeffrey Wigand, reported in 1996 by Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes and subject of the 1999 feature film, The Insider.

The SJC rejected the defense argument of claim preclusion.  The court recognized a qualitative difference between the claims of the Attorney General that resulted in the MSA and the claim of Laramie that persuaded a jury.

The "wrong" the plaintiff sought to remedy was the loss she and her daughter sustained due to Laramie's death, caused by Philip Morris's malicious, willful, wanton, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, see [wrongful death statute,] G. L. c. 229, § 2. The "wrong" the Attorney General sought to remedy, by contrast, was the Commonwealth's increased medical expenditures caused by Philip Morris's commission of unfair or deceptive acts or practices in violation of [consumer protection law,] G. L. c. 93A, § 2.

Product liability, like punitive damages, is not a function of common law in Massachusetts, at least formally.  The commonwealth imposes strict product liability through a wide-ranging consumer protection statute, "chapter 93A."  Product liability is effectuated formally as a warranty obligation by eliminating the requirement of contractual privity between plaintiff and defendant.  But from that point, functionally, the courts breathe life into the system with multistate common law norms.

Probably Philip Morris's best argument for claim preclusion arose in the theory that chapter 93A affords treble damages, which were incorporated, in theory, into the MSA, and therefore overlaps with chapter 229 in wrongful death.  But the court distinguished the two statutes.  While both afford punitive recovery, the tests and purposes differ.  Damages under 93A were predicated on commercial practices that caused injury to state interests, while 229 damages, which are not capped, arise from culpability in inflicting personal injury on a decedent in a wrongful death action, here, Fred Laramie.

The court rejected a range of other asserted errors, whether because not error or harmless error, in relation to evidentiary admissions, jury instructions, and closing arguments.  Philip Morris had prevailed in the trial court on plaintiff claims of negligence and civil conspiracy.

With regard to jury instructions, the SJC distinguished product liability in warning defect, which was not plaintiff's theory of liability, from the design defect the plaintiff did claim.  The jury was properly instructed, the court held, that 

congressionally mandated warnings were adequate as a matter of law to warn Mr. Laramie and other members of the public of the hazards associated with smoking. The law, however, does not permit a cigarette manufacturer through its statements or actions to mislead consumers or make misrepresentations about the risks or hazards associated with smoking.

Philip Morris complained that the jury was thereby misled to test for liability in misrepresentation or warning defect.  The excerpted bit strikes me, too, as problematic.  Nevertheless, the SJC wrote that the jury was correctly instructed on the elements, so the instructions were "clear" when "viewed as a whole."

Interesting for torts pedagogy in product liability is the court's recitation of defense theories that were rejected at trial.

In its defense, Philip Morris introduced evidence that there was no adequate, safer alternative design for Marlboro cigarettes. An expert for Philip Morris testified that all cigarettes are dangerous, and that any proposed alternative design was not safer, not acceptable to consumers, or not technologically feasible. Philip Morris maintained that Marlboro cigarettes were not unreasonably dangerous to Laramie because Laramie understood the risks of smoking.

Reports linking smoking to cancer had been published in the 1950s and 1960s, and people had recognized that tobacco was addictive "going back almost [one hundred] years."  Moreover, there was testimony that every pack of Marlboro cigarettes sold between 1970 and 1984 contained a warning label from the Surgeon General that "cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health," and that every pack sold thereafter contained one of four warning labels that are still in use. Cigarette advertisements also were banned from television and radio beginning in January 1971, when Laramie was thirteen or fourteen years old. In addition, since January 1972, every print advertisement for cigarettes has been required to include a warning label similar to those on cigarette packs.

In sum, based on this evidence, Philip Morris argued that Laramie caused his own death because, despite being adequately informed of the health risks of smoking, Laramie chose to smoke, and then chose not to quit smoking.

(Paragraph breaks added.)  The plaintiff overcame the no-alternative-design defense by hypothesizing that Fred Laramie might not have become addicted to a low-nicotine cigarette.  Defense theories in assumption of risk, personal choice, and sufficiency of warning all fell short against the showing of nicotine manipulation.

The case is Laramie v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., No. SJC-13070 (Mass. Sept. 15, 2021) (oral argument at Suffolk Law).  Justice Dalila Argaez Wendlandt authored the opinion for the unanimous panel of six justices.  Disclosure: As an attorney in private practice, I worked on the Philip Morris defense team on tobacco litigation in the 1990s.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Opioids, coronavirus add up to dangerous interaction

pxfuel.com
Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to criminal charges in the marketing of OxyContin, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced yesterday.  Meanwhile, addiction and coronavirus are dangerously interrelated, Dr. Joseph Grillo warns.

DOJ settled with Purdue Pharma in civil and criminal investigations, and with Sackler family shareholders in civil investigation.  Purdue will admit that it conspired to defraud the United States by misleading and impeding enforcement by the Drug Enforcement Administration for almost 10 years.  Purdue also will admit to conspiring to violate the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute with inducements to doctors to prescribe opioids for almost eight years.  (Purdue Plea.)

On the civil side, Purdue will settle, without admission, allegations of false claims to federal healthcare programs, of improper inducements to prescribing doctors, and of improper contracts with fulfilling pharmacies.  The government will have an unsecured claim on $2.8bn in Purdue's bankruptcy.  (Purdue Settlement Agreement.)  Purdue shareholders in the Sackler family will pay $225m in settlement of allegations that they approved an intensified opioid marketing program.  (Sackler Settlement Agreement.)

The settlements do not resolve state claims.

Opioids have taken more than 450,000 American lives since 1999, The New York Times reported yesterday, citing CDC research.  COVID-19 deaths now exceed 220,000, according to the CDC.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic nudged the opioid epidemic out of the number one spot for enemy of public health.  But the two are hardly mutually exclusive.  Addiction, of all types, interacts with the threat of coronavirus in a mutually exacerbating feedback loop.  Joseph Grillo, M.D., J.D., and an alum of my torts class, raised a warning flag on his blog yesterday.

"Two great epidemics of our generation are intersecting in ways that are additively deadly, and which highlight the urgent ways we must respond to some of the underlying fault lines in our society that are worsening both crises," Dr. Grillo wrote.

Read more about substance use disorders (SUD) and coronavirus at A Pandemic Within a Pandemic, Joseph Grillo, M.D. Medical Legal Consulting, Oct. 21, 2020.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Doctor's blog briefs COVID-19, medmal, learned intermediary doctrine, and addiction in legal profession

Like you, likely, I am at home.  And one thing I can tell you about home:  This ain't Rwanda.  Where I was supposed to be.  Apologies in advance to students for the classes I will have to reschedule in upcoming semesters to make up some of my sabbatical research.  Or maybe the university will afford me some bonus away time, compassionately understanding the impact of the crisis.  ROTFL.

So here I sit with some time to catch up on reading, and I want to share some worthwhile items here on the blog.

For starters, I'm terribly excited about what my friend and former student Joseph Grillo, M.D., J.D.-nearly-complete, has been writing over at his eponymous blog.  Here are recent headlines, links, and snippets in reverse chronological order.  Did I mention that Dr. Joe (LinkedIn) is an infectious disease specialist?

You have a look-see, below, while I go refresh my Whole Foods delivery window window.

Or not.



Image by Prawny from Pixabay
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – The Available Evidence
March 19, 2020

There is currently a large amount of information being circulated on the COVID-19 viral pandemic. Much of it is inaccurate and some is hysteria – often fostered by the mainstream media. In my view, the best way to combat this virus is by having evidence-based information and acting accordingly. There is a significant amount of accurate information currently known, but there is also considerable information that remains unknown at this time. Presented below is a discussion of both. Please feel free to contact me with questions at jfgrillo1@gmail.comRead more.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
The Effects of the Affordable Care Act on Medical Malpractice Claims
March 17, 2020

The seemingly interminable debates about the ACA and health care reform in the last few years have focused mainly on health care access, quality, and cost. Debates on the medical malpractice component of the issue have focused almost entirely on cost. The familiar arguments in favor of limiting liability include the financial and health costs of defensive medicine; decreased physician supply in certain specialties and geographic areas; excessive awards; and high transaction costs, including attorney and expert witness fees. The equally familiar arguments in favor of maintaining tort liability include the need to promote civil justice, deter substandard care, identify incompetent practitioners, and encourage systemic quality improvement. There is a complicated and nonlinear relationship between medical malpractice events, medical malpractice claims, and medical malpractice costs. [Footnotes omitted.]  Read more.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Editorial: The Edges of Physician Liability and The Learned Intermediary Doctrine
March 12, 2020

The Learned Intermediary doctrine paints an idyllic picture of patients’ total reliance on their physicians to choose drugs and of physicians choosing drugs that best promote patient welfare. These images, however, are increasingly out of sync with the present-day healthcare system. For instance, managed care and other cost control measures employed by insurance companies have altered the doctor-patient relationship.  Read more.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay
Suffering in Silence – The Addiction Epidemic in The Legal Profession
March 10, 2020

A recent course required an oral presentation on a topic of our choosing. Unknowingly, I chose to research and present my findings on addiction in the legal profession. What I found is worth expounding. Also worth noting is that these findings were presented to the university administration. Their response was chilling. In short, they claimed to “have this.” I am certain of a few things – they don’t “have this,” that being stagnant is at the heart of the crisis, and the status quo continues – drugs continue to be sold and consumed, and law students are suffering in silence. Therein lies a microcosm of a crisis within the legal profession.  Read more.

Image by Alina Kuptsova from Pixabay
Urgent Care – an Emerging Source of Clients for Medical Malpractice Attorneys
March 4, 2020

Urgent care centers are increasingly becoming Americans’ go-to option for certain health problems according to a study in JAMA Intern Med. 2018. Visits to urgent care clinics increased by 119% among commercially insured Americans between 2008 and 2015During the same time period, emergency room visits for low-severity conditions — like those treated at urgent care centers — decreased by 36%. The reasons for these trends are numerous, including the high costs and long wait times associated with ER visits. While there are certainly benefits to such clinics, there are potential pitfalls for patients.  Read more.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Not sure how to keep guns away from the mentally unfit? This cop has a stake and a plan.
Plus: Sandy Hook Update

Rob Devine, former deputy police chief of Stoughton,
Massachusetts, and a concerned parent.
Father of two, 19-year police veteran, UMass Law J.D. candidate 2020, and a distinguished survivor of my 1L Torts class, Robert C. Devine has published some practical but scholarly policy advice "to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions."  Here is the abstract:
The United States is in a state of conflict over the ability to obtain firearms as well as their use in highly publicized mass shootings. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza obtained several firearms that were lawfully owned by his mother, but were improperly secured. Lanza killed his mother that morning and then drove a short distance to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he murdered twenty-six people, many of whom were small children. Lanza eventually turned a gun on himself before being confronted by responding officers. Though mass shootings are often headlines in this country, the vast majority of misused firearms by the mentally ill are tragically used in suicide. The lessons of these examples must be used to augment current firearms policy in an effort to reduce the availability of firearms to those suffering with afflictions that make them ill-equipped to have access to them. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asks pointed questions in these areas regarding the fitness of the potential license holder, it collects no data whatsoever regarding other full-time household members where a firearm may be kept, nor what measures the licensee takes to ensure its security.
This Article illustrates a policy, grounded in facilitative principles, designed to reduce access to firearms by those mentally incapable of handling them or those with current substance addictions. Key components to the solution’s success should rely on increased vetting of the licensee’s environment and where lawfully owned firearms will be stored, in combination with assessing the risk factors of having been hospitalized for mental health, drug dependence, or alcohol dependence. This recommendation is merely an expansion of questions already used in the current Massachusetts firearms licensing application and would produce additional factors that a licensing official may consider when determining the suitability of an applicant. It is important to note that this would not be an outright prohibition for a licensee, which would likely be constitutionally impermissible. This Article concludes by reemphasizing the importance of giving licensing officials more information to consider in an effort to lower the risk of lawfully owned firearms ending up in the hands of the mentally ill or violent.

Mr. Devine takes due account of the Second Amendment, but recognizes that we're not doing all we can to implement regulation, even at the margins, that is hardly controversial.  The full article, Recommendations for Improving Firearms Vetting in Massachusetts, is available from the UMass Law Review and published at 14:2 U. Mass. L. Rev. 350 (Spring 2019).

Sandy Hook Update

The Connecticut Law Tribune reported last week that the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on September 26 in the defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones and InfoWars.  The trial court had allowed limited discovery despite the defense's anti-SLAPP motion.  The case is Lafferty v. Jones (Complaint at Scribd).

Meanwhile the Sandy Hook gun manufacturer liability suit against Remington is pending defense cert. petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, since the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed plaintiffs a narrow theory to circumnavigate Remington's federal statutory immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (at The Savory Tort). That case is now Remington Arms Co. v. Soto.